Nonlinear physically-based models for decoding motor-cortical population activity

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 19 (NIPS 2006)

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Gregory Shakhnarovich, Sung-phil Kim, Michael Black


Neural motor prostheses (NMPs) require the accurate decoding of motor cortical population activity for the control of an artificial motor system. Previous work on cortical decoding for NMPs has focused on the recovery of hand kinematics. Human NMPs however may require the control of computer cursors or robotic devices with very different physical and dynamical properties. Here we show that the firing rates of cells in the primary motor cortex of non-human primates can be used to control the parameters of an artificial physical system exhibiting realistic dynamics. The model represents 2D hand motion in terms of a point mass connected to a system of idealized springs. The nonlinear spring coefficients are estimated from the firing rates of neurons in the motor cortex. We evaluate linear and a nonlinear decoding algorithms using neural recordings from two monkeys performing two different tasks. We found that the decoded spring coefficients produced accurate hand trajectories compared with state-of-the-art methods for direct decoding of hand kinematics. Furthermore, using a physically-based system produced decoded movements that were more “natural” in that their frequency spectrum more closely matched that of natural hand movements.