A brain-machine interface for assistive robotic control
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Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are the only currently viable means of communication for many individuals suffering from locked-in syndrome (LIS) – profound paralysis that results in severely limited or total loss of voluntary motor control. By inferring user intent from task-modulated neurological signals and then translating those intentions into actions, BMIs can enable LIS patients increased autonomy. Significant effort has been devoted to developing BMIs over the last three decades, but only recently have the combined advances in hardware, software, and methodology provided a setting to realize the translation of this research from the lab into practical, real-world applications. Non-invasive methods, such as those based on the electroencephalogram (EEG), offer the only feasible solution for practical use at the moment, but suffer from limited communication rates and susceptibility to environmental noise. Maximization of the efficacy of each decoded intention, therefore, is critical. This thesis addresses the challenge of implementing a BMI intended for practical use with a focus on an autonomous assistive robot application. First an adaptive EEG- based BMI strategy is developed that relies upon code-modulated visual evoked potentials (c-VEPs) to infer user intent. As voluntary gaze control is typically not available to LIS patients, c-VEP decoding methods under both gaze-dependent and gaze- independent scenarios are explored. Adaptive decoding strategies in both offline and online task conditions are evaluated, and a novel approach to assess ongoing online BMI performance is introduced. Next, an adaptive neural network-based system for assistive robot control is presented that employs exploratory learning to achieve the coordinated motor planning needed to navigate toward, reach for, and grasp distant objects. Exploratory learning, or “learning by doing,” is an unsupervised method in which the robot is able to build an internal model for motor planning and coordination based on real-time sensory inputs received during exploration. Finally, a software platform intended for practical BMI application use is developed and evaluated. Using online c-VEP methods, users control a simple 2D cursor control game, a basic augmentative and alternative communication tool, and an assistive robot, both manually and via high-level goal-oriented commands.