|The Institute of Automation at the University of Bremen has a strong tradition in robotics and technology for assisting disabled people. A person with a movement handicap has reduced possibilities to interact with the environment. This can range from tremors and shaky movements caused by a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson's, to a total paralyzation of the entire body, resulting for example from a broken neck and an irreparable injury to the spinal cord. The aim of the research conducted at the Institute of Automation is to provide substitute means of interaction for disabled persons, which reduce the dependence on other people and widen the array of possible activities that can be performed. An example is to use a robotic arm that can carry out tasks in place of the person's own arms.
A vital part of an assistive robotic system is the interface between human and computer, with which the will and intention of the disabled person can be conveyed. For this purpose, brain-computer interfaces are investigated at the Institute of Automation. A brain-computer interface measures brain signals by placing electrodes either directly into the brain, or on the surface of the scalp. Advanced signal processing methods are then applied to find patterns in the brain signals which can be used as control commands to, for example, move a robot arm, or to turn on the microwave.
As the coordinator of the European Union project 'BrainRobot', the Institute of Automation is pursuing the research on brain-computer interfaces together with four international partners. A main theme in the current research focuses on the use of signals originating in the visual cortex in the brain for controlling a robot arm with 7 degrees of freedom. The signals are measured via several electrodes placed on the scalp over the visual cortex, and subsequently processed in real-time to extract relevant information. Several other mobile robots and wheelchairs are also available at the institute, and research on a new light-weight assistive robot arm is currently going on. Novel applications of brain-computer interfaces will be tested in a new intelligent kitchen environment, which is designed for persons who need alternative ways to operate and handle the equipment.