Using brain waves to control artificial hand


Dr. Erik Engeberg, assistant professor with a joint appointment in the mechanical and biomedical engineering departments, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore different methods for people with upper limb amputation or congenital limb absence to control dexterous artificial hands with brain waves.

“When people move, or imagine moving their hands, characteristic electrical signatures are generated on top of the head that can be detected noninvasively,” says Engeberg. “The goal of this research is to develop biomedical signal processing techniques to enable this with a single, small recording electrode placed noninvasively on subjects’ heads.”

The recorded brain waves will be wirelessly transmitted to the artificial hand in real time. A top-level controller will be developed to interpret the intent of the test subjects while a low-level controller will be used to synchronize the dexterous grasp motions of the artificial hand. Algorithms will also be developed using tactile feedback from the fingertips to automatically prevent grasped objects from being accidentally dropped when they are transported or disturbed. Participants in the study will help to compare the newly developed artificial hand control techniques with brain waves to conventional control techniques with muscle signals during common tasks of daily life.

If successful, this research will result in a noninvasive and economic method for people with an upper limb amputation or congenital absence to control a dexterous artificial hand with brain waves. This could substantially improve the functionality of prosthetic hands for many people. The use of minimal hardware will facilitate the clinical adoption of this technique and the autonomous low-level control algorithms will produce a brain machine interface that places a low cognitive burden on the operator.