Long-Term BCI Training of a Tetraplegic User: Adaptive Riemannian Classifiers and User Training
Front. Hum. Neurosci.. 2021-03-18; 15:
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While often presented as promising assistive technologies for motor-impaired users, electroencephalography (EEG)-based Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) remain barely used outside laboratories due to low reliability in real-life conditions. There is thus a need to design long-term reliable BCIs that can be used outside-of-the-lab by end-users, e.g., severely motor-impaired ones. Therefore, we propose and evaluate the design of a multi-class Mental Task (MT)-based BCI for longitudinal training (20 sessions over 3 months) of a tetraplegic user for the CYBATHLON BCI series 2019. In this BCI championship, tetraplegic pilots are mentally driving a virtual car in a racing video game. We aimed at combining a progressive user MT-BCI training with a newly designed machine learning pipeline based on adaptive Riemannian classifiers shown to be promising for real-life applications. We followed a two step training process: the first 11 sessions served to train the user to control a 2-class MT-BCI by performing either two cognitive tasks (REST and MENTAL SUBTRACTION) or two motor-imagery tasks (LEFT-HAND and RIGHT-HAND). The second training step (9 remaining sessions) applied an adaptive, session-independent Riemannian classifier that combined all 4 MT classes used before. Moreover, as our Riemannian classifier was incrementally updated in an unsupervised way it would capture both within and between-session non-stationarity. Experimental evidences confirm the effectiveness of this approach. Namely, the classification accuracy improved by about 30% at the end of the training compared to initial sessions. We also studied the neural correlates of this performance improvement. Using a newly proposed BCI user learning metric, we could show our user learned to improve his BCI control by producing EEG signals matching increasingly more the BCI classifier training data distribution, rather than by improving his EEG class discrimination. However, the resulting improvement was effective only on synchronous (cue-based) BCI and it did not translate into improved CYBATHLON BCI game performances. For the sake of overcoming this in the future, we unveil possible reasons for these limited gaming performances and identify a number of promising future research directions. Importantly, we also report on the evolution of the user’s neurophysiological patterns and user experience throughout the BCI training and competition.