"Brain cap" technology being developed at the University of Maryland allows users to turn their thoughts into motion. Associate Professor of Kinesiology José 'Pepe' L. Contreras-Vidal and his team have created a non-invasive, sensor-lined cap with neural interface software that soon could be used to control computers, robotic prosthetic limbs, motorized wheelchairs and even digital avatars.
University of Maryland associate professor of
kinesiology Jose "Pepe" Contreras-Vidal wears his
Brain Cap, a noninvasive, sensor-lined cap with neural
interface software that soon could be used to control
computers, robotic prosthetic limbs, motorized
wheelchairs and even digital avatars. (Credit: John
Consoli, University of Maryland)
"We are on track to develop, test and make available to the public- within the next few years -- a safe, reliable, noninvasive brain computer interface that can bring life-changing technology to millions of people whose ability to move has been diminished due to paralysis, stroke or other injury or illness," said Contreras-Vidal of the university's School of Public Health.
The potential and rapid progression of the UMD brain cap technology can be seen in a host of recent developments, including a just published study in the Journal of Neurophysiology, new grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health, and a growing list of partners that includes the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Rice University and Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Integrated Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation.
"We are doing something that few previously thought was possible," said Contreras-Vidal, who is also an affiliate professor in Maryland's Fischell Department of Bioengineering and the university's Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program. "We use EEG [electroencephalography] to non-invasively read brain waves and translate them into movement commands for computers and other devices.
Contreras-Vidal and his team have published three major papers on their technology over the past 18 months, the latest a just released study in the Journal of Neurophysiology in which they successfully used EEG brain signals to reconstruct the complex 3-D movements of the ankle, knee and hip joints during human treadmill walking. In two earlier studies they showed (1) similar results for 3-D hand movement and (2) that subjects wearing the brain cap could control a computer cursor with their thoughts.
Alessandro Presacco, a second-year doctoral student in Contreras-Vidal's Neural Engineering and Smart Prosthetics Lab, Contreras-Vidal and co-authors write that their Journal of Neurophysiology study indicated "that EEG signals can be used to study the cortical dynamics of walking and to develop brain-machine interfaces aimed at restoring human gait function."
There are other brain computer interface technologies under development, but Contreras-Vidal notes that these competing technologies are either very invasive, requiring electrodes to be implanted directly in the brain, or, if noninvasive, require much more training to use than does UMD's EEG-based, brain cap technology.
Partnering to Help Sufferers of Injury and Stroke
Contreras-Vidal and his team are collaborating on a rapidly growing cadre projects with researchers at other institutions to develop thought-controlled robotic prosthetics that can assist victims of injury and stroke. Their latest partnership is supported by a new $1.2 million NSF grant. Under this grant, Contreras-Vidal's Maryland team is embarking on a four-year project with researchers at Rice University, the University of Michigan and Drexel University to design a prosthetic arm that amputees can control directly with their brains, and which will allow users to feel what their robotic arm touches.