For years, BrainGate – a research program run by Stanford University – has been working to help paralyzed individuals communicate through technology. In a recent breakthrough, their scientists have successfully linked a brain to an Android Nexus tablet.
Finding ways to make communication possible for those who could not speak or write has focused primarily on eye or head tracking technologies until now. Problematically, these have all been both slow and tiring to use, and lacking in accuracy. This new system – connecting the brain directly to the technology it is manipulating – promises to ultimately be faster, easier to use, and more accurate.
Tested on a woman referred to as patient T6 who is paralyzed from the neck down due to Lou Gehrig’s disease, the system requires a brain implant of a 100 channel electrode into the area of the brain in charge of movement. A neuroprosthesis works to track brain signals and respond to them – decoding neural signals and using them to control a mouse. As the researchers realized that tapping on a touchscreen is similar to utilizing point-and-click, they determined that connecting this device to a tablet via Bluetooth would speed up the process, and expand what the user was able to do with it. Instead of building something from scratch, utilizing pre-existing robust and visually pleasing technology made more sense, which is how the Nexus 9 came into the picture.
T6 performed a very successful test run of the technology, easily using Google, aided in terms of speed by autocomplete features. The implant should be able to work for 2 years without replacement or maintenance and the ultimate plan is not only to expand the projected lifespan, but also to make the product useable with alternative platforms, and add features such as click-and-drag. One of the scientists involved, Dr Paul Nuyujukian, described this breakthrough as “a first step towards developing a fully-capable brain-controlled communication and computer interface for restoring function for people with paralysis.”