Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy
Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Departmental Colloquium - The use of robotic technology and control theory to explore brain function and dysfunction

Stephen Scott
GSK-CIHR Chair in Neuroscience, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen’s University

Date: October 9th, 2015
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Location: Theatre A


We take for granted the ease in which we can move and interact in the environment as it takes little conscious effort to reach out to grab an object of interest or use a fork to pick up food. A major challenge in neuroscience is to understand how distributed circuitry in the brain and spinal cord supports highly flexible, goal-directed motor actions. The present talk will describe two lines of research, one basic and one clinical, that exploit the use of robotic technology to measure and modify upper limb motor function.

My basic research program explores the neural, mechanical and behavioural aspects of sensorimotor function. Inspired by optimal control theory, we have performed a series of studies that illustrate the surprising sophistication of the human motor system to rapidly respond to small disturbances of the arm during goal-directed motor actions. Further studies explore the brain circuits that provide this fast feedback processing. A second line of research examines the potential of robots as a next generation technology for neurological assessment. Assessment of sensorimotor and cognitive function plays a crucial role in all facets of patient care, from diagnosing the specific disease or injury, to management and monitoring of rehabilitation strategies to ameliorate dysfunction. Most assessment scales for sensorimotor function are subjective in nature with relatively coarse rating systems, reflecting that it is difficult for even experienced observers to discriminate consistently small changes in performance using only the naked eye.

Our general hypothesis is that robotic technologies can provide a new approach to assess brain function. I will discuss a number of novel robot-based tasks we’ve developed to assess brain function in subjects with stroke, highlighting the complex patterns of sensory, motor and cognitive deficits that can be quantified with this technology.