Today Brain-Computer Interfaces are applied in a lot of fields from Domotics to Industry and Neuromarketing, but right now Healthcare is the hottest one.
The majority of BCI applications indeed are developed for people that, after an injury or a disease, are affected by temporary or permanent miscommunication between the Central Nervous System (CNS) and a part or the totality of the body.
Armonia by Vibre perfectly fits into this scenario. It is a Neuro-Rehabilitation system based on a Mind-Driven Virtual Reality, designed for people with upper limb impairments caused by a stroke or neurological injuries.
What is a Stroke?
A Stroke is a temporary interruption of blood flow to an area of the brain that causes the destruction of nervous tissue and can lead to death or to disabilities, whose entity depends on the severity of the pathology.
Armonia is composed by a Virtual Reality headset, in our case an Oculus Rift, and a wireless EEG acquisition system with dry electrodes, specially made for us by BitBrain Technologies to fit with any VR hardware. It also includes the software with AI algorithms, VR scenarios and a User Interface for the therapist, who can manage and supervise every part of the therapy.
Patients are fully immersed into a photorealistic virtual environment with whom they can interact just by imaging to make a specific exercise following the instruction of a clinician.
The treatment is completely customizable: there are several virtual environments and exercises and even the upper limb models can be modified in order to be as similar as possible to those of the patient, offering a high level of realism.
After a phase of setup, the subject is asked by the therapist to perform an exercise in VR, like grabbing a tennis ball from a table. When the system notices that the patient wants to make the requested movement, a virtual animation reproducing it is shown.
Thanks to Artificial Intelligence algorithms, that elaborate the signal coming from the Motor Cortex, Armonia understands whether the patient is trying to make the movement requested or not.
Not only it can understand it, but can even anticipate it by almost half second: before we make a movement there is a phase of planning in which the brain generates a specific pattern called Readiness Potential (RP, part of a bigger waveform called MRCP that lasts for all the movement execution). Thanks to high precision AI algorithms, RPs can be detected and used as an indicator for the incoming action.
So the “magic” is in the perfect synchronization between the detection of motor intention and the reproduction of the virtual animation, which gives a powerful visual biofeedback. All this is possible only thanks to the capability of the system to anticipate the movement: the half-second given by the anticipation indeed is fundamental to compensate for the delay, caused by signal elaboration, that would make the timing inaccurate, reducing the therapeutical effect.
Another strength of Armonia is the extreme realism of VR, which makes the patient feel like he is making an actual movement; this phenomenon, called embodiment, is essential to increase the stimulation of Neuroplasticity.
Neuronal Plasticity is the ability of the brain to modify itself and adapt to changes and is the physiological principle on which relies Neurological Rehabilitation: after a damage, within the four months following the pathological event, this capability speeds up and has a maximum of effectiveness, so it is very important to exploit this time at best.
There are many papers showing that BCI and VR alone stimulate Neuroplasticity, by putting these technologies together and by acting immediately after the stroke, Armonia can give a boost to the patient’s recovery, rehabilitating him faster and with better results.
We had been working on this technology for two years and at the moment it is waiting for a first clinical experimentation with a private clinique in Rimini.
Armonia is a perfect example of how BCIs can have a huge impact on people’s lives. At Vibre we understood this potential and we work everyday to exploit it and gradually bring it in our everyday life.