Stanford researchers have designed the fastest, most accurate algorithm yet for brain-implantable prosthetic systems that can help disabled people maneuver computer cursors with their thoughts. The algorithm’s speed, accuracy and natural movement approach those of a real arm, doubling performance of existing algorithms.
When a paralyzed person imagines moving a limb, cells in the part of the brain that controls movement still activate as if trying to make the immobile limb work again. Despite neurological injury or disease that has severed the pathway between brain and muscle, the region where the signals originate remains intact and functional.
In recent years, neuroscientists and neuroengineers working in prosthetics have begun to develop brain-implantable sensors that can measure signals from individual neurons, and after passing those signals through a mathematical decode algorithm, can use them to control computer cursors with thoughts. The work is part of a field known as neural prosthetics.
A team of Stanford researchers have now developed an algorithm, known as ReFIT, that vastly improves the speed and accuracy of neural prosthetics that control computer cursors. The results are to be published November 18 in the journal Nature Neuroscience in a paper by Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and neurobiology at Stanford, and a team led by research associate Dr. Vikash Gilja and bioengineering doctoral candidate Paul Nuyujukian.
The Stanford team wanted to understand how the system worked “online,” under closed-loop control conditions in which the computer analyzes and implements visual feedback gathered in real time as the monkey neurally controls the cursor to toward an onscreen target.
The system is able to make adjustments on the fly when while guiding the cursor to a target, just as a hand and eye would work in tandem to move a mouse-cursor onto an icon on a computer desktop. If the cursor were straying too far to the left, for instance, the user likely adjusts their imagined movements to redirect the cursor to the right. The team designed the system to learn from the user’s corrective movements, allowing the cursor to move more precisely than it could in earlier prosthetics.
To test the new system, the team gave monkeys the task of mentally directing a cursor to a target — an onscreen dot — and holding the cursor there for half a second. ReFIT performed vastly better than previous technology in terms of both speed and accuracy. The path of the cursor from the starting point to the target was straighter and it reached the target twice as quickly as earlier systems, achieving 75 to 85 percent of the speed of real arms.
“This paper reports very exciting innovations in closed-loop decoding for brain-machine interfaces. These innovations should lead to a significant boost in the control of neuroprosthetic devices and increase the clinical viability of this technology,” said Jose Carmena, associate professor of electrical engineering and neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley.
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