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J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2016 Aug 4;13(1):73. doi: 10.1186/s12984-016-0172-3.

Proportional estimation of finger movements from high-density surface electromyography.

Author information

Center for Sustainable Futures@PoliTo, Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Torino, Italy.
Institute for Neurorehabilitation Systems, University Medical Center Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
Tyromotion GmbH, Graz, Austria.
Institute for Neurorehabilitation Systems, University Medical Center Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.



The importance to restore the hand function following an injury/disease of the nervous system led to the development of novel rehabilitation interventions. Surface electromyography can be used to create a user-driven control of a rehabilitation robot, in which the subject needs to engage actively, by using spared voluntary activation to trigger the assistance of the robot.


The study investigated methods for the selective estimation of individual finger movements from high-density surface electromyographic signals (HD-sEMG) with minimal interference between movements of other fingers. Regression was evaluated in online and offline control tests with nine healthy subjects (per test) using a linear discriminant analysis classifier (LDA), a common spatial patterns proportional estimator (CSP-PE), and a thresholding (THR) algorithm. In all tests, the subjects performed an isometric force tracking task guided by a moving visual marker indicating the contraction type (flexion/extension), desired activation level and the finger that should be moved. The outcome measures were mean square error (nMSE) between the reference and generated trajectories normalized to the peak-to-peak value of the reference, the classification accuracy (CA), the mean amplitude of the false activations (MAFA) and, in the offline tests only, the Pearson correlation coefficient (PCORR).


The offline tests demonstrated that, for the reduced number of electrodes (≤24), the CSP-PE outperformed the LDA with higher precision of proportional estimation and less crosstalk between the movement classes (e.g., 8 electrodes, median MAFA ~ 0.6 vs. 1.1 %, median nMSE ~ 4.3 vs. 5.5 %). The LDA and the CSP-PE performed similarly in the online tests (median nMSE < 3.6 %, median MAFA < 0.7 %), but the CSP-PE provided a more stable performance across the tested conditions (less improvement between different sessions). Furthermore, THR, exploiting topographical information about the single finger activity from HD-sEMG, provided in many cases a regression accuracy similar to that of the pattern recognition techniques, but the performance was not consistent across subjects and fingers.


The CSP-PE is a method of choice for selective individual finger control with the limited number of electrodes (<24), whereas for the higher resolution of the recording, either method (CPS-PA or LDA) can be used with a similar performance. Despite the abundance of detection points, the simple THR showed to be significantly worse compared to both pattern recognition/regression methods. Nevertheless, THR is a simple method to apply (no training), and it could still give satisfactory performance in some subjects and/or simpler scenarios (e.g., control of selected fingers). These conclusions are important for guiding future developments towards the clinical application of the methods for individual finger control in rehabilitation robotics.


Finger control; Hand rehabilitation; High-Density electrodes; Human–machine interfaces; Machine learning; Rehabilitation robotics; Surface electromyography

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