Individuals who sustained a spinal cord injury often lose important motor skills, and cannot perform basic daily living activities. Several assistive technologies, including robotic assistance and functional electrical stimulation, have been developed to restore lost functions. However, designing reliable interfaces to control assistive devices for individuals with C4-C8 complete tetraplegia remains challenging. Although with limited grasping ability, they can often control upper arm movements via residual muscle contraction. In this article, we explore the feasibility of drawing upon these residual functions to pilot two devices, a robotic hand and an electrical stimulator. We studied two modalities, supra-lesional electromyography (EMG), and upper arm inertial sensors (IMU). We interpreted the muscle activity or arm movements of subjects with tetraplegia attempting to control the opening/closing of a robotic hand, and the extension/flexion of their own contralateral hand muscles activated by electrical stimulation. Two groups were recruited: eight subjects issued EMG-based commands; nine other subjects issued IMU-based commands. For each participant, we selected at least two muscles or gestures detectable by our algorithms. Despite little training, all participants could control the robot's gestures or electrical stimulation of their own arm via muscle contraction or limb motion.
Keywords: FES-assisted grasping; electromyography interface; inertial measurement unit interface; spinal cord injury; tetraplegia.