UH Researcher Brings Brain-Controlled Exoskeleton a Step Closer to Reality

A University of Houston engineering researcher’s progress in developing a non-invasive device the human brain could use to control prosthetic limbs has been published in a special issue of IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering.

Jose Luis “Pepe” Contreras-Vidal, director of the Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been working on a brain-machine interface that is much simpler than what was once predicted. He recently moved to UH from the University of Maryland to continue his research.  

Contreras-Vidal said that most researchers have long believed that decoding movement intentions in the brain would require invasive technologies, such as electrodes implanted in the skull.

But his earlier research demonstrated that movement intentions related to the legs – such as walking, turning and sitting – can be decoded with high accuracy through a scalp electroencephalogram (or EEG), which records the brain’s electrical activity through a skullcap fitted with electrodes that touch the scalp.

His earlier studies used 64 electrodes to decode moment intention, but Contreras-Vidal has since been able to demonstrate that same capability with just 12 electrodes. Such a drastic reduction, he said, could result in an interface system that would be far less intrusive and much easier to use.

The results were published recently in the IEEE special issue. IEEE, which stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for humankind.

Contreras-Vidal’s research group also has developed the ability to connect movement intentions that integrate feedback from stimuli with the movement intention that preceded it. This advance should allow Contreras-Vidal and his colleagues to devise a brain-machine interface that can more closely mimic the near-automatic response able-bodied individuals have to the unexpected, such as stumbling.

“This is an important capability for any robotics system. If something goes wrong, if the feedback is not expected, you need to be able to make quick corrections,” he said.

With these findings, Contreras-Vidal hopes to demonstrate a human walking with an exoskeleton controlled by a brain-machine interface in a matter of months. A successful demonstration will be an important milestone for both science and patient care.

To read the IEEE paper go to: http://bit.ly/JBBVKD

About the University of Houston

               The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 39,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.