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Neuroprosthesis enables grasping with mental power
Researchers at the cross-sectional center of the Orthopedic University Clinic in Heidelberg have presented a new prototype that enables paraplegics to perform various movements.
The scientists from twelve European universities involved in the international research project "Tobi" (Tools For Brain Computer Interaction) met in Würzburg on Thursday to discuss the latest findings in the field of interfaces for controlling so-called neuroprostheses. The brain-computer interfaces are intended to enable paraplegics to move with the help of thought power.
Already today, different neuroprostheses offer paraplegics the opportunity to perform various movement functions, although the previous user interfaces often do not meet the requirements. Often the paraplegic have to perform unnatural auxiliary movements to control the prostheses, such as with the left shoulder to move the right (prosthesis) hand.
Prostheses are controlled by brain waves The control of the prostheses by brain waves is achieved with the help of a so-called electrode hood, which forwards the brain waves to a computer, which then enables the movements by means of electrostimulation. In terms of interfaces, science "has made huge progress compared to ten years ago," said Andrea Kübler from the University of Würzburg. However, the expert limited that this was not yet "what will come on the market in the next two years". Currently "the cap and the contact gel still do a lot of work for the paraplegic, the software is too complicated and the transmission of the brain waves is too slow", said the weaknesses of the technology available today, which Kübler mentioned. The interfaces also had to be smaller, faster, more reliable and a little more chic so that they could meet the needs of the patients, the expert emphasized.
Paraplegic able to move through thought? In principle, patients can choose exactly which part of the body they want to move with their thoughts, explained Dr. Rüdiger Rupp from the cross-sectional center of Heidelberg University Hospital explores the possibilities of brain-computer interfaces. Almost five years ago, Dr. Rüdiger Rupp was awarded the Konrad Biesalski Prize by the German Society for Orthopedics and Orthopedic Surgery for developing a neuroprosthesis that can be controlled by means of weak muscle tension or even through thoughts. A lot has happened since then and the control options via the user interfaces have been continuously improved in the sense of paraplegics. The goal of making paraplegics mobile again with the help of their power of thought seems to be within reach.
Improvement of quality of life for paraplegics
Progress in the area of neuroprosthesis is a possible signal of hope for the approximately 1,800 people who suffer paraplegia in Germany each year. Because "in the case of paraplegics with high paraplegia, every form of improvement in the gripping function means a significant gain in quality of life" Rupp on the motivation of his work at the award ceremony in 2008. The control options via the brain-computer interfaces could decide "whether a paraplegic can master his life independently or is completely dependent on outside help for life." (Fp)
Image: Dieter Schütz / pixelio.de