While cool, robotic appendages aren't number one on the wish list. "According to my clinical collaborator who deals with locked-in people on a daily basis, people want as much independence as possible," Erdogmus said. "The top desire is to communicate."
Several teams are advancing machines to decode brain signals and translate them into speech or text. When Boston University neuroscientist Frank Guenther and his team collaborated with Phil Kennedy of Neural Signals Inc., they made headlines by helping a lock-in man use his mind to articulate vowels in 2009.
Last year Brian Pasley at the University of California Berkeley and his colleagues demonstrated an algorithm to interpret signals from patients having surgery to treat epilepsy or a tumor. Another program reconstructed what they were thinking. While it could only parse some words, it's closer to a thought translator.