When someone has suffered a stroke, they often have difficulty relaying commands from their brain to other parts of their body, such as their limbs. A new robotic system, known as NCyborg, may one day help them regain the ability to do so.
NCyborg is currently being developed via a collaboration between China’s Tongji Hospital (which is affiliated with the Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and Harvard-affiliated brain-computer interface company BrainCo.
Plans call for the wearable system to initially be used for the rehabilitation of stroke victims’ paralyzed hands. It will consist of three main components: an EEG (electroencephalography) headband that reads electrical signals from the brain, an armband that reads neuromuscular signals from the forearm, and a powered robotic glove worn on the hand.
When the patient tries to perform a certain action with their hand, the headband and the armband will detect the accompanying electrical signals, and relay the data to a linked computer. There, an artificial-intelligence-based algorithm will cross-reference the distinctive pattern of electrical signals with a database of hand movements, in order to establish which movement is a match for that particular pattern. It will then activate the glove, which will move the hand through the intended action.
The idea is that training in this fashion will gradually rebuild the wearer’s damaged neural pathways, until eventually the patient will be able to execute the hand movements without any robotic help.
It is hoped that the initial hand-based version of the system will be available within five years. By that point, it should be capable of identifying at least eight hand movement intentions with an accuracy rate of over 90 percent, plus it should react in less than 300 milliseconds.
“The project’s goal is to develop an easy-to-use, reliable and affordable stroke rehabilitation robot that will improve the rehabilitation effect for stroke survivors, speed up the rehabilitation process, and reduce the costs involved,” says Tongji Hospital’s Dr. Jonh H. Zhang, co-corresponding author of a paper on the project.
The paper was recently published in the journal Brain Hemorrhages.
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