Objective. The reliable estimation of parameters such as mean or covariance matrix from noisy and high-dimensional observations is a prerequisite for successful application of signal processing and machine learning algorithms in brain–computer interfacing (BCI). This challenging task becomes significantly more difficult if the data set contains outliers, e.g. due to subject movements, eye blinks or loose electrodes, as they may heavily bias the estimation and the subsequent statistical analysis. Although various robust estimators have been developed to tackle the outlier problem, they ignore important structural information in the data and thus may not be optimal. Typical structural elements in BCI data are the trials consisting of a few hundred EEG samples and indicating the start and end of a task. Approach. This work discusses the parameter estimation problem in BCI and introduces a novel hierarchical view on robustness which naturally comprises different types of outlierness occurring in structured data. Furthermore, the class of minimum divergence estimators is reviewed and a robust mean and covariance estimator for structured data is derived and evaluated with simulations and on a benchmark data set. Main results. The results show that state-of-the-art BCI algorithms benefit from robustly estimated parameters. Significance. Since parameter estimation is an integral part of various machine learning algorithms, the presented techniques are applicable to many problems beyond BCI.

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