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Meeting brain–computer interface user performance expectations using a deep neural network decoding framework


Brain–computer interface (BCI) neurotechnology has the potential to reduce disability associated with paralysis by translating neural activity into control of assistive devices1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Surveys of potential end-users have identified key BCI system features10,11,12,13,14, including high accuracy, minimal daily setup, rapid response times, and multifunctionality. These performance characteristics are primarily influenced by the BCI’s neural decoding algorithm1,15, which is trained to associate neural activation patterns with intended user actions. Here, we introduce a new deep neural network16 decoding framework for BCI systems enabling discrete movements that addresses these four key performance characteristics. Using intracortical data from a participant with tetraplegia, we provide offline results demonstrating that our decoder is highly accurate, sustains this performance beyond a year without explicit daily retraining by combining it with an unsupervised updating procedure3,17,18,19,20, responds faster than competing methods8, and can increase functionality with minimal retraining by using a technique known as transfer learning21. We then show that our participant can use the decoder in real-time to reanimate his paralyzed forearm with functional electrical stimulation (FES), enabling accurate manipulation of three objects from the grasp and release test (GRT)22. These results demonstrate that deep neural network decoders can advance the clinical translation of BCI technology.

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Fig. 1: Experimental set-up, data processing steps, and NN architecture.
Fig. 2: Year-long high-fidelity decoding of movement intentions with NNs.
Fig. 3: Translating gains in NN accuracy to system usability and increasing the number of available functions with transfer learning.
Fig. 4: Real-time control of functional electrical stimulation.

Data availability

Data used in this study can be made available to qualified individuals for collaboration provided that a written agreement is executed in advance between Battelle Memorial Institute and the requester’s affiliated institution. Such inquiries or requests should be directed to G.S.


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We thank the study participant and his family for their dedication and support. We thank D. Weber and H. Bresler for assistance in editing the manuscript; M. Zhang, S. Colachis, H. Trivedi, A. Singh, and P. Ganzer for their assistance with the sessions, data collection, and help editing the manuscript; and R. Kittel for help with figure formatting. Financial support for this study came from Battelle Memorial Institute and The Ohio State University Neurological Institute and Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. M.A.B. also acknowledges the invaluable mentorship of the Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program at the Association of Academic Physiatrists. M.A.S. would also like to thank his brother E. Schwemmer for being a source of inspiration for this work.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.A.F., G.S., M.A.S., and M.A.B. conceptualized the study; D.A.F., M.A.S., N.D.S., G.S., and M.A.B. designed the experiments; M.A.S., N.D.S., D.A.F., P.B.S., and J.E.T. performed research and data analysis; M.A.S., N.D.S., D.A.F., and M.A.B. wrote the manuscript; all authors contributed to editing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael A. Schwemmer.

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Competing interests

The authors declare competing interests, as they are employed by institutions that provided the funding for this work and/or have filed associated patents. M.A.S., N.D.S., J.E.T., D.A.F., and G.S. are all employed by Battelle Memorial Institute and M.A.B. is employed by the Ohio State University. P.B.S. was also employed by the Ohio State University at the time of this study. D.A.F. and G.S. are listed as inventors on the United States patent application US 2018/0178008 (related WO 2016/196797), and G.S. is listed as an inventor on the United States patent application US 2015/0306373. These are related to the neural bridging BCI technology and stimulation sleeve used in the GRT experiment in the paper.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–8 and Supplementary Tables 1 and 2

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Example cued block in which the participant is in control of the BCI-FES system and performing the three functional grips plus hand open

Supplementary Video 2

Example ‘free-time’ block in which the participant is in control of the BCI-FES system and performing the three functional grips plus hand open

Supplementary Video 3

Example grasp and release test block (GRT, see Methods)

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Schwemmer, M.A., Skomrock, N.D., Sederberg, P.B. et al. Meeting brain–computer interface user performance expectations using a deep neural network decoding framework. Nat Med 24, 1669–1676 (2018).

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