Patient T6, a woman in her 50s, is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gherig’s Disease. She is paralyzed from the neck down, and she has lost the ability to communicate. With the help of scientists from Stanford University and the BrainGate program, she was able to control a Nexus tablet with just her brain waves. The team directly implanted a “baby-aspirin-sized” 100-channel electrode on the regions responsible for movement in Patient T6’s brain. First the electrodes record her brain activity as she looks at the projected letters on the screen. This gets passed on to the neuroprosthesis, which would translate and interpret the signals to allow for “continuous control of cursor movement and clicks.” Although it was great in terms of response and accuracy, the process was painfully slow.
The team modified the current set up to make it faster by letting the neuroprosthetic communicate with the tablet through Bluetooth instead. In this way, the device just saw the prosthetic as a Bluetooth device. This tiny tweak enabled Patient T6 to navigate through tiny links easily, use the standard QWERTY keyboard, and search on Google with ease. Nuyujukian’s team plans to work on implementing click-and-drag and multi-touch manuevers and possibly expanding to other devices beyond the standard tablet. According to Nuyujukian, this is merely the first step in developing “fully-capable brain-controlled communication and computer interface for restoring function for people with paralysis.”