Noninvasive neuroimaging enhances continuous neural tracking for robotic device control

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Science Robotics  19 Jun 2019:
Vol. 4, Issue 31, eaaw6844
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaw6844


Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) using signals acquired with intracortical implants have achieved successful high-dimensional robotic device control useful for completing daily tasks. However, the substantial amount of medical and surgical expertise required to correctly implant and operate these systems greatly limits their use beyond a few clinical cases. A noninvasive counterpart requiring less intervention that can provide high-quality control would profoundly improve the integration of BCIs into the clinical and home setting. Here, we present and validate a noninvasive framework using electroencephalography (EEG) to achieve the neural control of a robotic device for continuous random target tracking. This framework addresses and improves upon both the “brain” and “computer” components by increasing, respectively, user engagement through a continuous pursuit task and associated training paradigm and the spatial resolution of noninvasive neural data through EEG source imaging. In all, our unique framework enhanced BCI learning by nearly 60% for traditional center-out tasks and by more than 500% in the more realistic continuous pursuit task. We further demonstrated an additional enhancement in BCI control of almost 10% by using online noninvasive neuroimaging. Last, this framework was deployed in a physical task, demonstrating a near-seamless transition from the control of an unconstrained virtual cursor to the real-time control of a robotic arm. Such combined advances in the quality of neural decoding and the practical utility of noninvasive robotic arm control will have major implications for the eventual development and implementation of neurorobotics by means of noninvasive BCI.

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