A new mind-controlled robotic hand may help increase independence for people living with quadriplegia or the effects of a stroke, according to a recent study published in Science Robotics.
The low-cost robotic device – a hybrid brain/neural hand exoskeleton – was tested on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects. Participants wore a cap that measured electric brain activity and eye movement, which allowed them to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glove-like device attached to their hand. The device used a system known as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), in which the participants’ visualization of a closing hand results in the actual hand-closing of the robotic device. Within 10 minutes, participants were able to learn how to use the device, enabling them to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork, drinking from a cup, or signing their name.
While brain-controlled robotic aids for people with quadriplegia or stroke deficits are not new, many existing systems require implants which can cause health problems, or use wet gel to transmit signals from the scalp to electrodes. Because the gel needs to be washed out of the user’s hair afterwards, it is impractical for daily use.
Participants in the study were individuals with high spinal cord injuries – they were able to move their shoulders but not their fingers. A limitation to the system is that users must have sufficient shoulder and arm function to reach out with the robotic hand. As well, mounting the system requires help from another person.
The authors of the study stated that the device could be brought to market within two years and would cost 5,000 to 10,000 euros ($7,100 – $14,200 in Canadian dollars) depending on functionality. The device could also be used to help re-train the brains of stroke patient undergoing rehabilitation, the authors state.
In our practice, we have represented many people who live with quadriplegia or have suffered the effects of a stroke, so we closely follow new developments in the field of rehabilitation. We are hopeful that brain/neural-assisted technology will offer increased independence and autonomy for people who have suffered such injuries.