Upper Body-Based Power Wheelchair Control Interface for Individuals with Tetraplegia

Elias B. Thorp, Farnaz Abdollahi, David Chen, Ali Farshchiansadegh, Mei Hua Lee, Jessica P. Pedersen, Camilla Pierella, Elliot J. Roth, Ismael Seanez Gonzalez, Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Many power wheelchair control interfaces are not sufficient for individuals with severely limited upper limb mobility. The majority of controllers that do not rely on coordinated arm and hand movements provide users a limited vocabulary of commands and often do not take advantage of the user's residual motion. We developed a body-machine interface (BMI) that leverages the flexibility and customizability of redundant control by using high dimensional changes in shoulder kinematics to generate proportional control commands for a power wheelchair. In this study, three individuals with cervical spinal cord injuries were able to control a power wheelchair safely and accurately using only small shoulder movements. With the BMI, participants were able to achieve their desired trajectories and, after five sessions driving, were able to achieve smoothness that was similar to the smoothness with their current joystick. All participants were twice as slow using the BMI however improved with practice. Importantly, users were able to generalize training controlling a computer to driving a power wheelchair, and employed similar strategies when controlling both devices. Overall, this work suggests that the BMI can be an effective wheelchair control interface for individuals with high-level spinal cord injuries who have limited arm and hand control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7115135
Pages (from-to)249-260
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016


  • Assistive devices
  • body-machine interface
  • spinal cord injury
  • wheelchair control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • General Neuroscience
  • Internal Medicine
  • Biomedical Engineering


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