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

This drone with hands looks like a nightmare straight out of Black Mirror

This unlikely drone-with-hands creation is the work of Federico Ciccarese, the brains behind YouBionic, a bionic hand project that has evolved far beyond its original brief. Check it out.
Social Media

Facebook will pay to spy on you, but you can make more money elsewhere

Facebook's new Study app will track how you use your phone and provide that data to the social media giant. The company will even pay you for it — but likely not very much, especially compared to the market rate for your personal…
Emerging Tech

Custom 3D-printed heads let doctors practice delicate brain procedures

Radiotherapists who operate to remove brain tumors could benefit from being able to practice on specific patients ahead of time. Thanks to customized 3D-printed heads, now they can!
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different tech

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies and help determine which might be best for you.
Emerging Tech

This crazy-looking robot uses microspines on its legs to climb up walls

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have built a bioinspired robot, which uses microspines on its feet to grip onto rough surfaces. This allows it to climb up very steep gradients. Check it out.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.
Emerging Tech

Adobe develops tool to identify Photoshopped images of faces

With deepfake videos making headlines, and campaigns against the Photoshopping of models, people are more aware than ever of the digital manipulation of images. Now Adobe wants to give tools to users to let them spot faked images.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for manned missions to Mars

Survival on Mars is a massive challenge for humanity. To cope with the highly variable temperatures, lack of oxygen and water, and high levels of radiation, the Mars 2020 rover will carry instruments to pave the way for human exploration.
Emerging Tech

Facebook builds virtual homes to train A.I. agents in realistic environments

Researchers at Facebook have created Habitat, which is a platform that enables rapid training for A.I. agents. They will receive thousands of hours of training in just a few minutes in the virtual homes.
Emerging Tech

Impossible Foods struggles to keep up with Impossible Burger demand

Red Robin and White Castle have reported Impossible Burger shortages, as it appears that Impossible Foods is struggling to keep up with demand. The company will be selling its meat-like patties in retail outlets within the year.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

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

Pass the salt please: Table salt found on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers have spotted something unexpectedly familiar on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa -- sodium chloride, better known as table salt. This suggests the under-ice oceans on Europa are salty and similar to our oceans on Earth.