Before neural prosthetics, kid's played video games with their brains
Dr. Adam Kirton
University of Calgary
Undergraduate grant in 2018
Undergraduate student at the University of Calgary
If you are a child with cerebral palsy, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to control your body’s movements. As a result, there are a number of things that your friends can do that you can’t, like kick a soccer ball.
In the video clip above, a brain-computer interface (BCI) was paired with a robotic exoskeleton that let a paraplegic man experience what it was like to kick a soccer ball for the first time in decades (and remember, soccer is to Brazil what hockey is to Canada). This was a moment of pure joy for the man, but it took months of training for the BCI to properly understand what his brain wanted the robotic limbs to do. Imagine if he had been able to start that training at a younger age, how much better his BCI would work? Well, the goal of this study is to find out so that you don’t have to guess.
A BCI is a device that allows a computer to read brain activity and use it to interact with the computer. This technology can be used to create robotic arms and wheelchairs controlled by someone’s brain but requires extensive brain-training, which is often challenging for kids with cerebral palsy. This project is proposing to develop a BCI video game that could make this training more interesting and accessible to kids.
Fun fact: While not Branch Out funded research, the PI that developed the exoskeleton technology for the world cup began as a basic science project. The technology used in the currently funded study is in part the result of that basic science project from years ago. You never know when a question like, “Can we interpret the brain’s electrical activity?” will lead to the question, “Can we let children with cerebral palsy learn to walk?”
This study seeks to develop a way for children’s brains to communicate with computers so that kids suffering from motor disabilities, like cerebral palsy, can eventually use technology to regain their functional independence. Until then, they get the joy of being able to play a video game with their mind.
For their generous contributions to the Branch Out Neurological Foundation, this research project has been funded by and dedicated to INTACT Insurance.