Her medical codename is T6, and she has learned to use the internet on a Nexus 9 tablet to communicate to the world or do some basic research of her own – through the use of her eyes; because she is paralyzed from the neck down.
Around 50 years of age, T6 suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition that gradually damages the motor neuron and causes a progressive paralysis. But her wits are still about her, and her mind and brain are as sharp as can be expected.
T6 cannot speak or write or convey her thoughts and intentions in any way – just like other paralytic patients who suffer from spinal injury, stroke, or some form of neurodegenerative disorders. But now she’s able to track her thoughts on a Nexus 9 tablet ordered from Amazon and perform exciting things on the internet via Google.
According to Dr. Paul Nuyujukian, a neuroengineer and physician at Stanford University, “we really wanted to move these assisted technologies towards clinical feasibility,” he said at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience that just took place in Chicago.
A tiny aspirin-sized microarray chip was implanted into T6’s brain, and this decoded neural signals linked to hard algorithms in real-time in order to control mouse and cursor without much hassles. The project is part of the BrainGate’s clinical trials which aims to enable people with movement problems interact with technological devices and then communicate with the world.
With the 100-channel electrode array implanted into the left side of the brain which controls movements, the level of brain activity is recorded when a patient looks intently on a screen, and the intent is passed to a neuroprosthesis which interprets the signals and have them translated into a continuous control of cursor movements and clicks.
Using the existing setup, the researchers reworked it to connect with T6’s brain waves so that she can tap on the screen of the Nexus 9 tablet, making the neuroprosthetic to communicate with the tablet via Bluetooth protocols.
“Basically the tablet recognized the prosthetic as a wireless Bluetooth mouse,” explained Nuyujukian. “We set out to utilize what’s already been perfected in terms of the hardware to make the experience more pleasant. We’ve now showed that we can expand the scope of our system to a standard tablet.”
But the team led by Nuyujukian is not done yet. The neuroengineer added that:
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“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.”