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brain computer interface

Brain-Computer Interface Allows paralysis patients to Type Faster

A brain-computer interface developed by American researchers allows people with paralysis, including amyloid lateral sclerosis (ALS), to type much faster than with other brain-controlled devices.

The BrainGate interface (BCI), which is surgically implanted in the brain, works by recording brain activity with a sensor. The information is sent to a computer, which interprets the brain activity using algorithms that generate signals. The signals can then be used to control such tools as robotic limbs, powered wheelchairs, and computer cursors.

A team of researchers from various hospitals and universities including Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Brown University, and Massachusetts General Hospital have come together to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) that would allow severely paralyzed individuals restore their ability to communicate with ease once more. The team’s efforts allowed participants of their study to perform a typing speed that’s up to four times faster than earlier studies. Two participants had ALS and one a spinal cord injury.

Each participant was asked to perform three typing tasks to measure their performance via a point-and-click method, much like using a computer mouse.

Researchers measured how many words a participant could type in a minute. The best performer could type around eight words, faster ‘than anyone with paralysis has ever managed before,’ the researchers wrote.

“Our study’s success marks a major milestone on the road to improving quality of life for people with  paralysis,” Henderson said in a press release. 

Proof-of-concept experiments had indicated some time ago that brain-computer devices could help those with paralysis. But the systems’ performance was a problem. It wasn’t good enough for the devices to see widespread use among people with speech difficulties.

Though there is still that drawback of participants having wires coming out of their heads and connected to cables, researchers of the study are already looking into wireless technology. Researchers believe that further studies on the method could possibly allow paralyzed individuals to perform tasks beyond basic communication such as surfing the web and playing music.

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