Communication, in one form or another, is one of the most basic forms of interactions that humans engage in. Through the decades, methods of communication are constantly changing in faster and more instant ways, leaving people with ALS or other neurologic disorders lagging behind. Researchers and scientists, however, are constant in their efforts to help people with severe paralysis communicate with ease again.
A team of researchers from various hospitals and universities including Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Brown University, and Massachusetts General Hospital have come together to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) that would allow severely paralyzed individuals restore their ability to communicate with ease once more. The team's efforts allowed participants of their study to perform a typing speed that's up to four times faster than earlier studies.
'Point And Click'
Researchers of the study used an implanted BCI in three participants with varying forms of paralysis and focused on typing tasks in particular. Each of the three participants used BrainGate to move a cursor on a screen, which displayed the letters of the alphabet. Each participant was asked to perform three typing tasks to measure their performance via a point-and-click method, much like using a computer mouse.
A free-typing task, where they simply answered questions by typing their answers onto the device, assessed the practical use of the device, while a copy-typing task measured their typing rates in words per minute. The third task involving selecting squares in a six-by-six plane as they randomly lit up quantified the machine's maximum speed output and converts the data into bits-per-second measures.
Amazingly, the BCI allowed the participants to "type" faster than anyone with paralysis has done before, with the highest performing participant able to type up to eight words per minute, which is about four times higher than previously recorded.
Though there is still that drawback of participants having wires coming out of their heads and connected to cables, researchers of the study are already looking into wireless technology. Researchers believe that further studies on the method could possibly allow paralyzed individuals to perform tasks beyond basic communication such as surfing the web and playing music.
This is not the first time that researchers have looked into using BCIs to aid paralyzed individuals. Earlier this month, European scientists developed a BCI that could essentially "read" the thoughts of a paralyzed individual, thereby facilitating communication. Further, late last year saw the development of a non-invasive EEG-based system that allowed participants of the study to control a robotic arm in accordance to their thoughts.