Professor Vivek Prabhakaran at the University of Wisconsin is developing a device that combines a brain-computer interface with electrical stimulation of damaged muscles to help stroke patients relearn how to move limbs. Eight patients who had lost movement in one hand have been through six weeks of therapy with the device. They reported improvements in their ability to complete daily tasks.
Patients wear a cap of electrodes that picks up brain signals. Those signals are decoded by a computer. The computer sends tiny jolts of electricity through wires to sticky pads placed on the muscles of a patient’s paralyzed arm. The jolts act like nerve impulses, telling the muscles to move. A video game prompts patients to try to hit a target by moving a ball with their affected arm. Patients practice with the game for two hours, every other day.
Researchers scanned the patients’ brains before, during and a month after they finished 15 sessions with the device. The more patients practiced, the more they were able to train their brains.
Three projects have been awarded funding by the National Institutes of Health. All involve robots that cooperate with people and adapt to changing environments to improve human capabilities and enhance medical procedures.
- A co-robotic navigation device for the blind: Cang Ye at University of Arkansas is incorporating 3D imaging sensor technology into the white cane. This enables it to detect and relay to the user critical information about the environment, like when there’s a potential obstacle in the way. In related research, Professor Amnon Shashua at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, through his company OrCam, uses Artificial Vision to compensate for lost visual abilities, and Professor Amir Amedi at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is also developing cutting edge technology to help the vision impaired. His projects include reading in the blind, sensory substitution devices, multisensory perception, topographic brain, and seeing with music and sound.
- MRI-guided co-robotic catheter: During traditional catheter ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, one of the most common arrhythmias, a catheter with an electrode on its tip is threaded through a vein in a patient’s groin up to the heart. Doctors destroy tissue at certain points on the heart in order to prevent the occurrence of irregular heart activity. The constant movement of the heart and blood can make that process difficult. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University are developing a catheter that uses robotic planning strategies to compensate for those movements to increase accuracy of procedures in conjunction with MRI.
- Platform for exploration of robotic ankle exoskeleton control: Researchers at North Carolina State and Carnegie Mellon are developing a method to compare different wearable devices to assist people recovering from stroke.