Internet Enabled Consumer Devices

Paralyzed People Control Tablets with New Brain-Computer Interface

21 November 2018

A new brain-computer interface enables people with paralysis to directly operate an off-the-shelf tablet device by thinking about making cursor movements and clicks. The interface system does not require a special assistive communication technology to function.

Study participant performing a video search, and searching for artists from a music streaming program. Source: Nuyujukian et al., 2018 Study participant performing a video search, and searching for artists from a music streaming program. Source: Nuyujukian et al., 2018 Three clinical trial participants with tetraplegia received the investigational brain-computer interface implant developed by the BrainGate consortium. The device detects signals associated with intended movements produced in the brain’s motor cortex and routes the neural signals to a Bluetooth interface configured to work like a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse is then paired to an unmodified Google Nexus 9 tablet, which had all preloaded accessibility software turned off.

The subjects were asked to perform a set of tasks using the tablet, designed to see how well they were able to navigate within a variety of commonly used apps, and move from app to app. Users browsed through music selections on a streaming service, searched for videos on YouTube, scrolled through a news aggregator and composed emails and chats.

The study participants were able to make up to 22 point-and-click selections per minute while using a variety of apps. In text apps, they were able to type up to 30 effective characters per minute using standard email and text interfaces. The interface was deemed intuitive and fun to use, indicating its potential to open new lines of communication between patients with severe neurological deficits and their health care providers.

BrainGate scientists from Stanford University, Brown University, Emory University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School contributed to this research, which is published in PLOS One.

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