Graz researchers control robots with their thoughts

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Graz researchers control robots with their thoughts

The TU Graz team has made a significant breakthrough in neuroprosthesis using thoughts and a neurochip-free method to control robotic arms

Yesterday, the Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) reported a major breakthrough in neurotechnology – for the first time, test subjects were able to non-invasively control a robotic arm just by thinking about it. The experiments were performed in real time and the subjects did not use implants or neural chips, but a simple EEG cap, measuring their brain activity.

This research has great potential for paraplegics precisely because it is non-invasive. The neuroprosthesis uses a technology called brain-computer interfaces (BICs) to measure brain activity and combine it with electrical signals.

Make things happen with the mind

According to Gernot Müller-Putz, director of the Institute for Neurotechnology at TU Graz, explained that the mere idea of ​​movement triggers a measurable change in brain activity. What the researchers had to do was identify the specific change and relate it to a specific movement.

It also turns out that hand-eye coordination is essential for smooth and precise movements. Müller-Putz was quoted in a press release explaining that “It is important that users are allowed to use their eyes to follow the path of the robotic arm. Visual information helps capture the intention to move. Spurious signals from the eye itself, however, must be calculated from electrical activity.

The BIC also has an integrated error detection system. Essentially, the interface measures, recognizes and corrects errors based on brain activity. Once it detects an error, it corrects the movement or returns to the starting position.

The test subjects participating in the trials were paraplegic and, according to Müller-Putz, were able to replicate the successful trials several times.

Feel the movement

The researchers took it a step further and implemented a kinetic feedback system for everything else. This means that a subject can feel the movement of the robotic arm as if it were attached to their body. This is done using vibration transmitters, glued to the skin of the scapula. Theoretically, this means that it is possible for a completely disabled person to experience movement again.

Additionally, Müller-Putz and his team decided to raise the bar even higher for the future, as one of their distant goals is to find applications for the technology in the neck region. For now, however, their immediate quest is to decode brain activity even better and perfect arm movement.

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