Thought-Controlled Wheelchair for Tetraplegia Patients


Brains of those suffering from tetraplegia may be able to talk to their wheelchairs directly. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have developed mind-controlled wheelchairs, which assist with mobility solutions in complete paralysis.

The authors explained,

Mind-controlled wheelchairs are an intriguing assistive mobility solution applicable in complete paralysis,

We demonstrate[d] that three tetraplegic spinal cord injury users could be trained to operate a non-invasive, self-paced thought-controlled wheelchair and execute complex navigation tasks,

This is not the first time researchers have powered through mobility. However, this new version has multiple advantages compared to the previous ones. It is limited to “single session evaluation with able-bodied users”. Moreover, it has a brain-machine interface that relies on registering the user’s reaction to stimuli.

Moreover, in comparison with the other chairs, this was tested on the people it is designed for. Therefore, giving it the advantage of being tested on actual tetraplegia patients. The chair relies on a combination of brain activity specific to movement and robotic intelligence. Furthermore, users can do anything else they want otherwise as well. For example, have a conversation or think about other things and not accidentally give commands.

Users were told to be taught to move their chairs by imagining moving their hands and feet. Tetraplegia is exactly that, but the messages are lost. This device will read brain activity and pick up on those signals and send them to be interpreted by movement commands.

Moreover, the chair also has sensors, with ninety pieces of software, which can translate what they see in the environment. It will save the person from slam accidents.

Professor, José del R. Millán, who is leading the project said,

It works a lot like riding a horse,

The rider can tell the horse to turn left or to go into a gate. But the horse will ultimately have to figure out the optimal way to carry out those commands.

Will this tetraplegia wheelchair be seen in the commercial market soon?

There are a few reasons to be optimistic about that, which are that the chair does not require any invasive procedures. It only consists of a cap and a training manual. Moreover, based on recent developments by the research group, the EEG electrodes can be used long-term. The chairs were also tested in a cluttered, natural environment, making them not too difficult.

Millán added,

We demonstrated that the people who will actually be the end users of these types of devices are able to navigate in a natural environment with the assistance of a brain-machine interface,

However, despite all this, this was a very small study with just three people and one of them did not achieve “high navigational performance”. They were all spinal cord injury patients, limiting the generalization of the results based on someone with a different clinical profile.


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