By Joseph Guzman
A man who suffered a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed from the neck down has successfully typed sentences on a computer screen by imaging writing letters on a sheet of paper, according to a study published in Nature.
Researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University have successfully decoded brain activity associated with hand-writing letters.
Scientists worked with the paralyzed man in his 60s who agreed to participate in a clinical trial of an experimental system called BrainGate2. The technology involves using electrodes surgically implanted in the brain to allow people to control computers using only their thoughts.
In previous experiments, participants using the technology successfully used their thoughts to move a cursor to click letters on a screen, a much slower approach than the imagined handwriting technique detailed in the new research.
In the new preliminary findings, the paralyzed man imagined he was writing individual letters by hand while a computer monitored the electrical activity in his brain and used an algorithm to identify the letters he was attempting to write.
The computer then displayed the text on a screen in real time.
The experiment found the man was able to type 90 characters per minute, more than double the previous record for typing using the brain-computer interface technology. The algorithm was able to predict which letter the man was attempting to write with 95 percent accuracy.
“This approach allowed a person with paralysis to compose sentences at speeds nearly comparable to those of able bodied adults of the same age typing on a smartphone,” Jaimie Henderson, a professor of neurosurgery and co-author of the study, said in a news release.
“The goal is to restore the ability to communicate by text,” Henderson said.
Researchers say the technology could allow people with different types of disabilities to better communicate.