Researchers have demonstrated how brain activity is used to identify different terrains — level ground and stairs, for example — a key step in developing prosthetics that allow the user’s prosthesis to automatically adjust to changing ground conditions in real time.

Researchers collecting brain activity.
(Credit: University of Houston)

Using a wireless mobile brain-body imaging system, the work relied upon a 64-channel skullcap to track the brain activity of 10 able-bodied volunteers. Full-body motion capture technology recorded how the volunteer subjects moved.

The researchers collected the brain activity and then mapped the signals back to the brain to determine how specific parts of the brain are involved in discrete tasks associated with walking.

The work demonstrates what parts of the brain perform specific functions during walking in different conditions, a discovery that will allow for improved control over prosthetic limbs but will have other applications, as well. The researchers found several areas of the brain are involved, including the right and left occipital lobes, the posterior parietal lobe, the sensorimotor cortex and the anterior cingulate.