NOV 05, 2015 6:12 AM PST

Connecting a Brain to a Tablet?

Science fiction stories are full of plots involving brain chips, mind control and robots. All of that makes exciting entertainment, but some of it could actually make exciting (and real) science. A woman in California who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, volunteered to actually have a chip implanted in her brain as part of an experiment to see if it could allow her to control a Nexus 9 Tablet with her brain.
Neurons in the brain could be connected to technology

In order to protect her privacy, the patient was known in the experiment only as T6. Currently she can speak, use her hands for some tasks and is mobile with the help of a wheelchair. As with all patients with ALS however, eventually the disease will result in total paralysis.

T6 volunteered to be part of a clinical trial known as BrainGate 2  to see if scientists could figure out how to help patients with paralysis or other handicaps to communicate better. The goal, as amazing as it sounds, was to see if computers could be programmed to read the minds of these patients. At the recent Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago, Paul Nuyujukian, a post-doctoral research fellow presented the findings of the BrainGate 2 project and the results of the experiment, telling the gathering of neuroscientists that the BrainGate 2 team had been successful in assisting T6 in operating a tablet using the implanted chip and associated technology.

In a talk at the Society for Neuroscience Conference   the BrainGate2 team led by Nuyujukian revealed that they had replicated the results from T6 with another patient as well. Caution was advised however, since the program is in its very early stages.  In an interview referenced in The Financial Post Tech section he was quoted as saying, “This is still very much a research study. There’s no implication of clinical benefit.” 
 
The technology that exists now requires a paralyzed patient to use their eyes to track letters and objects on a screen. That tracking is picked up by optics and then converted to speech. This is how Stephen Hawking communicates and while he has achieved great success, it’s not always that way.  The speech is not always accurately transposed and the process can be very tiring for the patient.
The BrainGate 2 set up works by having the chip implanted in the part of the brain that controls hand motions. The patient then imagines using their hands to move along a virtual keyboard that was created with custom software. The chip is connected to the keyboard via a small cable attached to the patient’s head.

So how did a tablet get involved? Tapping out messages letter by letter is difficult, so the team decided that rather than re-inventing the wheel, they would use what already existed. They purchased a Nexus 9, modified the chip and cable to use Bluetooth protocols and they were in business. In an interview with SingularityHub.com Nuyujukian said, ‘“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.” Check out the video below to see a discussion of the project and the technology.
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
FEB 26, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 26, 2020
Optogenetic Techniques Provide Insight Into ALS
In humans, motor neurons link thoughts with the motion of the body. Now researchers have learned more about how they are ...
FEB 28, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 28, 2020
Pharmaceutical CBD Better for Epilepsy than Artisanal CBD
New research has found that children and teenagers suffering from epilepsy had significantly better seizure control when ...
APR 02, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
APR 02, 2020
Cooling Injured Brain Cells Can Aid Recovery
According to the CDC, in 2014 there were around 2.87 million incidences of TBI-related ER visits.
APR 19, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 19, 2020
Does Listening to Background Music Reduce Creativity?
Although music has long been thought to enhance creativity, new research says that it may actually have the opposite eff ...
APR 08, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 08, 2020
Study Catalogs Mouse Facial Expressions
It's easy to gauge a dog or cat's emotion by reading their facial expression, but the same has been historically ...
MAY 08, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAY 08, 2020
Why Your Dreams Get More Intense When You Quit Cannabis
Upon quitting cannabis, many notice their dreams become a lot more vivid and intense. But why?  To answer that ques ...
Loading Comments...