In mid 2015 a news surfaced….that actually shook the neuroscience world.One patient with paralysis got the chance to move from 80’s DOS to modern day Android . She actually learned how to use a tablet with her brain!
A brunette lady in her early 50s, a patient T6 suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which causes progressive motor neuron damage which paralyzed her body was finally able to communicate to the outside world . This neurodegenrative disease precludes the ability to write, speak or communicate their thoughts to their loved ones.“We really wanted to move these assisted technologies towards clinical feasibility,” said Dr. Paul Nuyujukian, a neuroengineer and physician from Stanford University, in a talk at the 2015 Society for Neuroscience annual conference that took place this week in Chicago.
By keeping these things in mind the idea of neural prostheses was generated
Neural prostheses directly interface the brain with computers. A very small sized microarray chip is directly implanted into the brain, and neural signals associated with intent is decoded by sophisticated algorithms in real time and used to control mouse cursors.
Their breakthrough came when they realized that controlling a cursor, from a mental point of view, is very similar to pointing a finger on a screen and moving it around – something that many people do every day, and that is well documented from a mental activity perspective.
Brain and the tablet interface
“We were going to design our own touchscreen hardware, but then realized the best ones were already on the market”, laughed Nuyujukian the reasercher who is working with patient T6.
The team took the existing setup of the tablet and reworked it so that patient T6’s brain waves could control where she tapped on the Nexus touchscreen. It was a surprisingly easy modification, the neuroprosthetic communicated with the tablet through existing Bluetooth protocols, and the system was up and running in less than a year.
“Basically the tablet recognized the prosthetic as a wireless Bluetooth mouse,” explained Nuyujukian. We pointed her to a web browser app and told her to have fun.
In a series of short movie clips, the team demonstrated patient T6 Googling questions about gardening, taking full advantage of the auto completion feature to speed up her research. T6 had no trouble navigating through tiny links and worked the standard QWERTY keyboard efficiently.
The team is trying to make the implant even sturdier to extend its lifespan in the brain.
“We set out to utilize what’s already been perfected in terms of the hardware to make the experience more pleasant,” said Nuyujukian. “We’ve now showed that we can expand the scope of our system to a standard tablet.” They are now working on ways to implement click-and-drag and multi-touch maneuvers. They also want to expand to other operating systems, enable the patients to use the device 24/7 without supervision, and expand their pilot program to more patients in all three of the BrainGate clinical sites.
“Our goal is to unlock the full user interface common to general-purpose computers and mobile devices,” said Nuyujukian. “This is a first step towards developing a fully-capable brain-controlled communication and computer interface for restoring function for people with paralysis.”