Our Research

Research Overview

Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is an exciting and upcoming field, with vast potential as an access technology for people with disabilities.  However, to date there has been very little research investigating BCI technology for one of the key user groups - children. Our research is centered around adapting brain-computer interface technology for pediatric users, especially for those with neurological disabilities. We are seeking to answer fundamental questions such as how and why BCIs work for children, how to adapt different common paradigms, training methods, and applications, and how to optimize signal processing algorithms for pediatric users. 

In parallel with these technical questions, we are seeking to transition BCI technology out of the laboratory and into a clinical environment. With this part of our research, we are investigating how to adapt BCI for long-term use, how children learn how to use BCI technology and progress over time, and how BCI can best be implemented to increase interaction, independence and control for the children we work with.

Our research group is a unique collaboration, bringing together researchers with backgrounds in neuroscience, engineering, medicine and rehabilitation sciences. We are proud to work with a variety of other researchers within the University of Calgary and Alberta Children's hospital, as well as with groups at the University of Alberta, University of Toronto, and the NCAN Centre in Albany, New York.


Current Research Projects

Expand the menu items below to learn more about some of our current research projects. 

Project Lead(s): Dion Kelly

In order to develop brain-computer interface applications for children with neurological disabilities, it is essential that we understand and characterize how neurotypical children can use common BCI systems. This study first examines a large sample of typically developing children will undergo a series of the most common BCI paradigms, including  P300 and motor imagery. This study will allow us to identify key differences, challenges, limitations and considerations with pediatric BCI compared to what is known for the adult population, and serve as a baseline from which we can measure BCI performance of children with neurological disabilities. Then, BCI paradigms will be optimized through gamification of training paradigms and protocols to investigate how BCI can be better designed for pediatric users, maintaining their motivation and attention throughout BCI use.

Relevant Publications:

Evaluating If Children Can Use Simple Brain Computer Interfaces.

Project Lead(s): Erica Floreani & Danette Rowley

The ability to move independently and explore the environment contributes significantly to development. Children with physical disabilities are often not able to move on their own, remaining passive observers of their environment and relying on caregivers to move them from place to place. Power mobility devices like powered wheelchairs can give these children the ability to move independently. We are exploring if BCI can be used as a technology to access and 'drive' power mobility devices for children with severe physical impairments who may have had limited success with more common access methods like joysticks or switches. We have recently launched a longitudinal study called BCI-Move that will follow 30+ children across 4 sites (in Canada and abroad) as they train their BCI and power mobility skills to achieve functional and personal power mobility goals.

Relevant Publications:

Unlocking Independence: Exploring Power Movement with Brain-Computer Interface for Children with Severe Physical Disabilities

Project Lead(s): Dion Kelly, Erica Floreani & Danette Rowley

Most of BCI research is conducted in the laboratory, with typically developed adults. We are changing this by establishing a clinical research program to provide children with physical disabilities access to BCI technologies, and exploring how they can use these technologies to accomplish personal goals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we brought the clinical BCI program right into the homes of our participants, so they could continue using BCI while in-person operations were suspended. Based on the initial success of this program, we are continuing to develop our home-based efforts, discovering new ways to support and study how children use BCI in a natural environment!

Relevant Publications:

Establishing a Clinical Brain-Computer Interface Program for Children with Severe Neurological Disabilities

Iterative Development of a Software to Facilitate Independent Home Use of BCI Technologies for Children with Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy

Project Lead(s): Eli Kinney-Lang & Dion Kelly

Every child has the right to play, and for many children, the 'play' involves gaming - video games, online games, board games, etc. However, for the children we work with, traditional video game controllers are highly inaccessible, and even if using alternative access technologies like adaptive controllers or switches, many video games are not designed to be accessible. We are very interested to see how BCI can be used to access video games, how games can best be designed to be controlled using BCI, and how gamification of BCI paradigms can increase motivation and stimulate BCI skill development in children. In 2019, we hosted the first ever BCI Game Jam, where we had game developers across North America get together to create some BCI-enabled video games, which were then tested and judged by the kids in our BCI program. Now, we are conducting an online multiplayer gaming study, where kids in the program can play video games against each other or against other family members using BCI online.

Relevant Publications:

A Child's Right to Play: Results from the Brain-Computer Interface Game Jam 2019 (Calgary Competition).

Designing a flexible tool for rapid implementation of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) in game development.

Project Lead(s): Daniel Comaduran Marquez

Engaging in play with children with similar capabilities stimulates a sense of belonging and can lead to feelings of support, inclusion, and capability, especially for children with disabilities. Sports participation is an activity that facilitates the development of peer relationships. However, due to their severe motor impairments, children with quadriplegic CP are generally unable to participate in traditional sports and are therefore deprived of the opportunity to learn social sportsmanship skills. Boccia is a paralympic sport, one of the few that has been adapted for individuals with severe disabilities. In its most adaptive form, the player instructs an assistant to aim a ramp. After the ramp is positioned, the player drops or pushes the ball down the ramp and towards the objective ball. The objective of this project is to develop and validate a BCI-controlled Boccia ramp that enables children with sever physical disabilities to participate in a paralympic sport for the first time in their lives.

Project Lead(s): Joanna Keough

Joanna’s MSc research is focused on optimizing brain-computer interfaces for children with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and understanding how children’s brain signals changes over time and as mental state changes. In particular, Joanna is investigating the role of fatigue in brain-computer interface performance and enjoyment. Her research utilizes electroencephalography (EEG) data, heart rate measures, and qualitative assessments to monitor changes in children’s fatigue levels as they engage with two different brain-computer interface paradigms for extended periods of time. Joanna’s data analysis will investigate if any relevant EEG measures correlate with subjective measures of fatigue as well as look at how heart rate changes may be an additional useful indicator of fatigue or attentional changes during brain-computer interface use.

Project Showcase

Watch the video below for more information about our BCI-enabled power mobility study.

 

An introduction to our BCI enabled power mobility projects


Red blue yellow sphero painting

Contact Us

 

Reach out to us for more information on the BCI4Kids Program or our research: 

Email: kirtonlabcalgary@gmail.com

Twitter: @BCI4kids

Address: Alberta Children's Hospital

28 Oki Dr NW

Calgary AB, Canada

 

We are a part of the Calgary Pediatric Stroke Program:

CPSP Website