A real-time comparison between direct control, sequential pattern recognition control and simultaneous pattern recognition control using a Fitts' law style assessment procedure
Background: Pattern recognition (PR) based strategies for the control of myoelectric upper limb prostheses are generally evaluated through offline classification accuracy, which is an admittedly useful metric, but insufficient to discuss functional performance in real time. Existing functional tests are extensive to set up and most fail to provide a challenging, objective framework to assess the strategy performance in real time. Methods: Nine able-bodied and two amputee subjects gave informed consent and participated in the local Institutional Review Board approved study. We designed a two-dimensional target acquisition task, based on the principles of Fitts' law for human motor control. Subjects were prompted to steer a cursor from the screen center of into a series of subsequently appearing targets of different difficulties. Three cursor control systems were tested, corresponding to three electromyography-based prosthetic control strategies: 1) amplitude-based direct control (the clinical standard of care), 2) sequential PR control, and 3) simultaneous PR control, allowing for a concurrent activation of two degrees of freedom (DOF). We computed throughput (bits/second), path efficiency (%), reaction time (second), and overshoot (%)) and used general linear models to assess significant differences between the strategies for each metric. Results: We validated the proposed methodology by achieving very high coefficients of determination for Fitts' law. Both PR strategies significantly outperformed direct control in two-DOF targets and were more intuitive to operate. In one-DOF targets, the simultaneous approach was the least precise. The direct control was efficient in one-DOF targets but cumbersome to operate in two-DOF targets through a switch-depended sequential cursor control. Conclusions: We designed a test, capable of comprehensively describing prosthetic control strategies in real time. When implemented on control subjects, the test was able to capture statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) in control strategies when considering throughputs, path efficiencies and reaction times. Of particular note, we found statistically significant (p < 0.01) improvements in throughputs and path efficiencies with simultaneous PR when compared to direct control or sequential PR. Amputees could readily achieve the task; however a limited number of subjects was tested and a statistical analysis was not performed with that population.