A convolutional neural network to identify motor units from high-density surface electromyography signals in real time

Yue Wen, Simon Avrillon, Julio C. Hernandez-Pavon, Sangjoon J. Kim, Fran ois Hug, José L. Pons*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Objectives. This paper aims to investigate the feasibility and the validity of applying deep convolutional neural networks (CNN) to identify motor unit (MU) spike trains and estimate the neural drive to muscles from high-density electromyography (HD-EMG) signals in real time. Two distinct deep CNNs are compared with the convolution kernel compensation (CKC) algorithm using simulated and experimentally recorded signals. The effects of window size and step size of the input HD-EMG signals are also investigated. Approach. The MU spike trains were first identified with the CKC algorithm. The HD-EMG signals and spike trains were used to train the deep CNN. Then, the deep CNN decomposed the HD-EMG signals into MU discharge times in real time. Two CNN approaches are compared with the CKC: (a) multiple single-output deep CNN (SO-DCNN) with one MU decomposed per network, and (b) one multiple-output deep CNN (MO-DCNN) to decompose all MUs (up to 23) with one network. Main results. The MO-DCNN outperformed the SO-DCNN in terms of training time (3.2-21.4 s epoch-1 vs 6.5-47.8 s epoch-1, respectively) and prediction time (0.04 vs 0.27 s sample-1, respectively). The optimal window size and step size for MO-DCNN were 120 and 20 data points, respectively. It results in sensitivity of 98% and 85% with simulated and experimentally recorded HD-EMG signals, respectively. There is a high cross-correlation coefficient between the neural drive estimated with CKC and that estimated with MO-DCNN (range of r-value across conditions: 0.88-0.95). Significance. We demonstrate the feasibility and the validity of using deep CNN to accurately identify MU activity from HD-EMG with a latency lower than 80 ms, which falls within the lower bound of the human electromechanical delay. This method opens many opportunities for using the neural drive to interface humans with assistive devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number056003
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • convolutional neural network
  • high-density surface electromyography
  • motor units
  • neural drive
  • real-time decomposition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Engineering


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