A user played Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on an Android tablet piano app and later bought some online bans. Another sent some text and then checked the weather forecast. A third navigated through a few videos before shooting Stevie Nicks on Pandora.
They did not use their fingers to type commands or their voices to navigate the interface.
They used their noggin, especially the region of the brain's cortical motor, where a baby aspirin implant was implanted as part of a new study.
Last year, we highlighted a BrainGate Consortium's revolutionary study in which the same brain-computer interface (BCI) allowed a paralyzed man to write up to eight words per minute, only through thoughts. In these new results from the BrainGate2 clinical trial, published today in the journal Plus one, three paralyzed participants used BCI to administer a tablet off the shelf.
"We wanted to see if we can allow someone to control not an augmentative or alternative communication device, but the same omnipresent device that people without physical disabilities use on a daily basis," says study co-author Leigh Hochberg of Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital Medical Center Providence VA.
All three participants suffer from weakness or loss of movement in their arms due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease) or spinal cord injury. Each received the brain implant, a series of microelectroids, as part of the BrainGate2 clinical trial.
For this special study, neural decoded signals from the implant were routed through a standard Industrial Interface Device protocol, featuring a virtual mouse. This mouse has been paired with a Google Nexus 9 tablet via Bluetooth.
Each participant was asked to try seven common apps on your tablet: email, chat, web browser, video sharing, music streaming, a weather report, and a news aggregator. Researchers asked users if they wanted additional apps and then added the keyboard application, Amazon shopping, and a computer.
Participants made up to 22 point and click selections per minute and entered up to 30 characters per minute in email and text programs. Moreover, all three participants enjoyed using the tablet, says Hochberg.
As described in the paper, a user noted:[T]he became second nature for me, very intuitive. She felt more natural than the times I remember using a mouse. "Another said,"[A]mazing! I have more control over this than what they normally use. "The third one added that" loves "sending text messages via the tablet.
The BrainGate2 clinical trial is underway, with 13 participants in previous and current studies, and the team continues to improve the speed and reliability of their neural decoding software, says Hochberg. The multi-university consortium also works on a wireless and fully implantable device with a rechargeable battery, similar to heart pacemakers and cochlear implants. "I'm optimistic that this technology is about to follow a similar pathway" like the technologies, he added.
For people with paralysis, the ability to communicate freer can be worth surgery and getting a brain implant. Other research teams, the most prominent Facebook, are working to develop non-invasive technologies that would translate "intentional speech" into text without a brain implant, but these efforts still have to show results.
"From our point of view – and we are fully dedicated and focused on helping people with paralysis and severe speech disorders – so far, it seems that a fully implanted device will provide a fast and reliable method," says Hochberg.
And with regard to Thanksgiving, he adds, "I am incredibly grateful not only to the participants in our ongoing BrainGate trials but to all those who participate in early clinical trials just to help others."
Updated 21 Nov. 2018