Students develop digital games aimed at the human brain

Digital games help improve myoelectric prostheses

For most students, games are a distraction from their work. But for Katie Wilson, games are the work.

Wilson is a biomedical engineering graduate student at the University of New Brunswick. She has designed a computer game meant to pinpoint problems and improve accuracy of myoelectric prostheses, which are controlled by a person’s own muscles.

The game begins by placing electrodes on a person’s arm. The electrodes read EMG signals from the muscles, which are then processed and used to control the game. The goal of the game is to move a cursor on the computer screen into a box.

“Everything starts with your brain,” Wilson said. “Your brain controls your muscles so we take those electrical signals for one input. Then we would ask you to do different motions, like opening your hand, and get other inputs. From that, we can use a program to decode the input and get you to control a cursor on the screen.”

Unlocking the brain’s potential

Wilson began the project two years ago when she was hired as a summer co-op student at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering.

Digital games have been used to unlock the brain’s potential in the past. Wilson said it’s a tool that is still being used by students at the institute to continue improving the control of myoelectric prostheses.

“This process is used for many different areas in prosthetics,” she said.

Where a body-powered prosthetic arm would require the user to hunch their shoulders to open or close the hand, a myoelectric prosthesis reads the electrical signals in the arm muscles.

“We’re trying to improve on that and make it more user-intuitive,” she said.

Students have a direct impact through digital games

Wilson completed her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at UNB. Her concentration was in biomedical engineering, which allowed her to study the human body as well. After graduation, she chose graduate studies over a job in the electrical engineering field.

“The thought of doing an electrical engineering job just wasn’t as satisfying. I didn’t get to work with people,” she said. “I’d be helping in some way but I wouldn’t directly affect someone’s personal life. I see impacts of my work firsthand here.”

Being in a combined research and clinical facility means Wilson interacts with patients on a weekly basis. She sees their needs and what her work can do.

“I feel that I am contributing to research that could help someone’s day-to-day life,” Wilson said. “That’s why I chose to come here.”

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