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Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2012;2012:4108-11. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2012.6346870.

Brain-Machine Interface control of a robot arm using actor-critic rainforcement learning.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Miami University, Coral Gables, Fl 33146, USA.


Here we demonstrate how a marmoset monkey can use a reinforcement learning (RL) Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) to effectively control the movements of a robot arm for a reaching task. In this work, an actor-critic RL algorithm used neural ensemble activity in the monkey's motor cortext to control the robot movements during a two-target decision task. This novel approach to decoding offers unique advantages for BMI control applications. Compared to supervised learning decoding methods, the actor-critic RL algorithm does not require an explicit set of training data to create a static control model, but rather it incrementally adapts the model parameters according to its current performance, in this case requiring only a very basic feedback signal. We show how this algorithm achieved high performance when mapping the monkey's neural states (94%) to robot actions, and only needed to experience a few trials before obtaining accurate real-time control of the robot arm. Since RL methods responsively adapt and adjust their parameters, they can provide a method to create BMIs that are robust against perturbations caused by changes in either the neural input space or the output actions they generate under different task requirements or goals.

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