You can now operate your tablet just by thinking about it

Monday, 26 November, 2018

You can now operate your tablet just by thinking about it

Scientists from the BrainGate consortium have developed an investigational brain-computer interface (BCI) that enables people with paralysis to directly operate an off-the-shelf tablet device by thinking about making cursor movements and clicks.

Three clinical trial participants with tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia) received the investigational BrainGate brain-computer interface implant, which detects the signals associated with intended movements produced in the brain’s motor cortex. These neural signals were routed to a Bluetooth interface configured to work like a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse was then paired to an unmodified Google Nexus 9 tablet, which had all preloaded accessibility software turned off.

The participants were then asked to perform a set of tasks using the tablet, designed to see how well they were able to navigate within a variety of commonly used apps, and move from app to app. The participants browsed through music selections on a streaming service, searched for videos on YouTube, scrolled through a news aggregator and composed emails and chats.

The study showed that participants were able to make up to 22 point-and-click selections per minute while using a variety of apps. In text apps, the participants were able to type up to 30 effective characters per minute using standard email and text interfaces.

Additionally, the participants reported finding the interface intuitive and fun to use. One said, “It felt more natural than the times I remember using a mouse”, while another reported having “more control over this than what I normally use”.

“It was great to see our participants make their way through the tasks we asked them to perform, but the most gratifying and fun part of the study was when they just did what they wanted to do — using the apps that they liked for shopping, watching videos or just chatting with friends,” said lead author Dr Paul Nuyujukian. “One of the participants told us at the beginning of the trial that one of the things she really wanted to do was play music again. So to see her play on a digital keyboard was fantastic.”

The authors noted that their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has the potential to open important new lines of communication between patients with severe neurological deficits and their healthcare providers — especially since the brain-computer interface does not require a special assistive communication technology to function.

Image caption: A participant in the BrainGate clinical trial directly controls a tablet computer through a brain-computer interface. The participant, a musician, played a snippet of ‘Ode to Joy’ on a digital piano interface. Image credit: Nuyujukian et al, 2018.

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