Thought-controlled prosthetic will allow your brain to type

Thought-controlled prosthetic will allow your brain to type

By Natalie Shoemaker Aug. 4, 2015 2:31 pm Thought-control cursor

Brain-controlled prosthetics would give many suffering from spinal cord injuries some form of autonomy. But the state of thought-controlled computers isn’t anywhere near the precision an eSports competitor would find acceptable, or even an average user.

The brain is complex, which makes translating millions of firing neurons into an actionable command tricky. However, Stanford Electrical Engineer Krishna Shenoy has published some promising results in Nature Communications, where researchers detail their development of a new technique to make thought-controlled prosthetics more precise.
The study starts with a series of test trials where researchers analyzed how monkeys naturally reached for an object on a screen. They studied the electrical patterns from 100 to 200 neuron samples, and were able to get a better sense of the “brain dynamics” of such a simple motor function. From here, the researchers were able to boil down this action, Shenoy said, by “combining these scientific discoveries with the principled design of mathematical control algorithms.”

The researchers then had two trained monkeys tap a virtual keypad that had several rows of blank circles. When a light flashed, the monkeys were trained to tap that circle. The researchers tested the monkeys without the thought-control device in order to establish a performance baseline. They averaged 29 taps in 30 seconds. Then the researchers measured virtual taps that came from the monkeys thought-controlled cursor. The virtual cursor managed 26 taps in 30 seconds.

The video below shows both experiments. The first clip shows how the monkeys used their hands to hit the flashing targets on the screen. The second clip shows the monkeys’ taps, but all translated through the brain-control device.

These promising results have earned researchers the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct clinical trials with human participants.

“This is a fundamentally new approach that can be further refined and optimized to give brain-controlled prostheses greater performance, and therefore greater clinical viability,” Shenoy said in a press release.

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