Emory University
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Computer, What Letter Am I Thinking Of?

BrainImagine a high-performance computer-brain interface that allows people with paralysis to type just by thinking about typing.

Biomedical engineer Chethan Pandarinath's work enables people with arm and hand paralysis to type via direct brain control at the highest speeds and accuracy levels reported to date.

Now an assistant professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Pandarinath worked on this technology at Stanford University before coming to Emory and Georgia Tech.

Study volunteers included two people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and one person with a spinal cord injury. They each had small electrodes implanted in their brains, allowing researchers to track electrical activity as the person thought about moving.

Researchers then decoded this brain activity and converted it into actions, allowing the participants to control an on-screen cursor simply by imagining their own hand movements. "We're achieving communication rates that many people with arm and hand paralysis would find useful," Pandarinath says. "That's a critical step for making devices that could be suitable for real-world use."

The technology could be adapted to smartphones and tablets, researchers say, without substantial modifications.

With colleagues in neurosurgery and neurology at Emory and engineering at Georgia Tech, Pandarinath is extending the research, hoping to one day allow people with paralysis to reach out and grasp objects with a robotic arm while receiving sensory feedback—"feeling"—what the artificial hand is touching.

This would involve creating two-way communication between the patient and the technology.

"Ultimately we want brain-machine interfaces that restore more natural control of external devices," Pandarinath says.

Related Link

"Brain-computer interface allows fast, accurate typing by people with paralysis" (News Release, 2/21/2017)

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