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Researchers Determine How the Brain Controls Robotic Grasping Tools

By ­niversity of Missouri

February 4, 2015

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University of Missouri (MU) researchers suggest the cerebellum may play a critical role in controlling assistive robots for the disabled.

"We found that the brain didn't necessarily evolve to control modern robotic arms, but rather the cerebellum, an ancient portion of our brain that has remained relatively unchanged, plays a vital role in helping us reach and grasp with these tools--often with only minimal training," says MU professor Scott Frey.

As part of the study, participants completed a series of ordinary reaching and grasping tasks involving colored wooden blocks, and regions of the brain were monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Participants were then introduced to a robotic arm that performed the same reaching and grasping tasks when they pressed specific buttons. Finally, participants were told that the next day's tasks would involve controlling the robot remotely by video feed from within an MRI scanner.

"After subjects learned that pressing one button would result in grasping objects with a robotic arm, this same movement resulted in a dramatically different pattern of brain activity than pressing an identical button known by them to have no effect on the robot’s behavior," Frey says. The findings suggest the cerebellum might be a potential target for brain-controlled interfaces.

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