Progress in brain-computer interface gives paralyzed patients more control

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) just got a boost thanks to a team of researchers from Stanford University.

Working with three paralyzed patients — two of whom have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and one with spinal chord injury — the scientists implanted tiny silicone sensors into the subjects’ brains, allowing them to eavesdrop on the electrical activity of brain cells.

In the study, which was published this week in the journal eLife, patients were able to control a cursor and select letters on a keyboard simply by imagining the task.

This feat in itself wasn’t extraordinary, having been demonstrated in a number of prior studies. But advancements in the algorithms used to interpret the brain’s electrical signals enabled participants in this study to type up to nearly 40 characters per minute — a four-fold improvement over previous studies on people with paralysis.

“For the fastest participant, this meant typing at nearly eight words per minute,” Chethan Pandarinath, former Stanford postdoctoral scholar and lead author, told Digital Trends. “These performance levels are really exciting.”

About half of surveyed ALS patients would be satisfied typing around three words per minute, Pandarinath pointed out, while more than 70 percent would be satisfied with about four words per minute. “All of the participants in this study were able to achieve that first performance level, marking this study the first time that’s ever been achieved by a BCI with people with paralysis,” he said. “Further, two of the participants achieved much higher performance … so we’re really starting to reach performance levels that would be viewed positively by many people with ALS.”

To evaluate the system, the researchers had subjects use it in real-world situations. Each session — which entailed tasks like typing out messages and responding to questions in conversation — was conducted at the participant’s home instead of in a lab.

“Moving forward, we’d really like to extend beyond the simple typing interfaces we created here and on to control of real-world applications like tablet computers and smartphones,” Pandarinath said. Such control would give participants access to their email and the internet. Similar technology may even be used to command prosthetic limbs or connected devices around the home.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Gaming

The best of the last generation: Our 50 favorite Xbox 360 games

The Xbox 360 thrived during a generation where games were plentiful. Here's our list of the best Xbox 360 games of all time, including all game genres and even a few special indie hits.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Thirteen years later, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Here are some of the myriad ways it's done that.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.