A new brain-computer interface (BCI) developed by Stanford University promises to help paralyzed patients communicate more efficiently – by reading their minds.
This is quite literally true, actually. The technology enables people with spinal injuries or severe limb weakness to type words on a computer screen, via direct brain control, at up to 39 characters per minute.
In a research study published this week, Stanford scientists detailed the new technique, in which paralyzed patients controlled the point-and-click motion of a cursor on an onscreen keyboard. The cursor moved around via direct brain control; no physical input was required.
This kind of BCI technology has actually been around for a while, in various iterations, but the Stanford technique builds upon previous systems to deliver the highest speed and accuracy numbers recorded to date. What's more, the technology can be easily ported to different kinds of computing systems, from desktops and laptops to tablets or smart phones.
The new technique was tested on three study participants - one with a spinal cord injury, and two others with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. According to information released by Stanford, each patient had a small ("baby-aspirin sized") electrode array surgically implanted into the surface of the brain, at a depth of only a few millimeters. Specifically, the electrodes were implanted in the motor cortex, the region of the brain that controls muscle movements.