BrainGate2 is an electrode system implanted in the brain that lets you text, send emails, and browse the internet with your mind. Two people send text messages using BrainGate2. (Photo via BrainGate)
Imagine being able to fire off a text message with your mind. A new electrode system called BrainGate2 does exactly that. A new study found that three people paralyzed from the neck down were able to use unmodified tablets to send text messages, browse the internet, and stream music using the system. And it was all done without the need for special computer equipment.
The system works by using an array of micro-electrodes that are implanted in the brain, which decode in real time, the neural signals associated with the intention to move a limb. Participants had electrode grids implanted over part of their motor cortex, the part of the brain that helps control movement. The electrodes were then able to pick up neural activity indicating they were thinking about moving a cursor on the screen. The patterns were then sent to a virtual mouse that was wirelessly paired to the tablet.
Participants were able to perform tasks, like send emails, browse the internet, and even order groceries based on their intentions to move the cursor. And apparently, the process was easy to pick up. "The tablet became second nature to me, very intuitive," said one participant when asked about her experience, according to the study.
What makes BrainGate2 stand out from other brain-computer interface technology is that it works with off-the-shelf devices. You can use the electrode system and perform these tasks without using specialized computers or equipment. The system could be even more accessible to the user with a few simple tweaks.
The study notes how participants were able to navigate the user interface with ease even though they weren’t able to perform gestures commonly used on a tablet, like a click or drag. “Some of these limitations would have been overcome by enabling accessibility features found in the Android OS or third-party programs. Additionally, modifying the Android OS keyboard layout as we have done in prior reports would have likely increased typing rates."
The system may not be ready for use outside of testing, but the findings are astounding. This is a major breakthrough that allows those who are paralyzed to communicate and maintain their independence. This is bound to make a huge impact on people all over. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the system is ready for the masses.
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