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Front Neurosci. 2012 Nov 16;6:164. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00164. eCollection 2012.

Unsupervised adaptation of brain-machine interface decoders.

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  • 1Bernstein Center Freiburg, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg Freiburg, Germany ; Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London London, UK.


The performance of neural decoders can degrade over time due to non-stationarities in the relationship between neuronal activity and behavior. In this case, brain-machine interfaces (BMI) require adaptation of their decoders to maintain high performance across time. One way to achieve this is by use of periodical calibration phases, during which the BMI system (or an external human demonstrator) instructs the user to perform certain movements or behaviors. This approach has two disadvantages: (i) calibration phases interrupt the autonomous operation of the BMI and (ii) between two calibration phases the BMI performance might not be stable but continuously decrease. A better alternative would be that the BMI decoder is able to continuously adapt in an unsupervised manner during autonomous BMI operation, i.e., without knowing the movement intentions of the user. In the present article, we present an efficient method for such unsupervised training of BMI systems for continuous movement control. The proposed method utilizes a cost function derived from neuronal recordings, which guides a learning algorithm to evaluate the decoding parameters. We verify the performance of our adaptive method by simulating a BMI user with an optimal feedback control model and its interaction with our adaptive BMI decoder. The simulation results show that the cost function and the algorithm yield fast and precise trajectories toward targets at random orientations on a 2-dimensional computer screen. For initially unknown and non-stationary tuning parameters, our unsupervised method is still able to generate precise trajectories and to keep its performance stable in the long term. The algorithm can optionally work also with neuronal error-signals instead or in conjunction with the proposed unsupervised adaptation.


brain-computer interface; brain-machine interfaces; movement decoding; optimal feedback control; unsupervised learning

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