Experimental Brain Implant Lets Paralyzed People Communicate by Turning Thoughts Into Text
People with paralysis could someday use a brain implant to help them communicate their thoughts and carry out everyday tasks. As Engadget reports, a brain-computer interface (BCI) called the BrainGate2 Neural Interface System has enabled three paralyzed people to send texts, buy groceries online, stream music, and even play a virtual piano on a tablet.
The interface was developed by the BrainGate consortium, a team of neuroscientists, engineers, and computer scientists that creates new technologies for people who are paralyzed, have lost a limb, or have a neurologic disease that limits their motor function or speaking ability. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS One.
The three participants in the clinical study are paralyzed and lack the use of their arms. An implant about the size of a baby aspirin pill containing an array of microelectrodes was placed in their motor cortex—the part of the brain responsible for movement. A small sensor was used to record any neural signals associated with moving a limb, which were then decoded and sent to a virtual mouse paired to a tablet via Bluetooth.
In other words, the participants just had to think about moving a cursor on a screen, and the interface did the heavy lifting for them. They were able to type 30 characters per minute and make 22 point-and-click selections per minute.
Similar technologies have been developed in the past, but this one lets people use an off-the-shelf tablet without having to make any modifications, according to Engadget.
Although the brain implant technology is still in the experimental stage and is not yet ready for commercial development, several of the study’s authors said the results are promising and could vastly improve the quality of life for people with paralysis.
Stanford University bioengineer and lead author Paul Nuyujukian said in a statement, "One of the participants told us at the beginning of the trial that one of the things she really wanted to do was play music again. So, to see her play on a digital keyboard was fantastic."