Researchers have been using brain-computer interfaces to interact with patients suffering from locked-in syndrome for a few years now. But a new system from the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland may finally allow even the most immobile patients communicate with the outside world. There are degrees to locked-in syndrome. The lesser variety only allows those suffering from it to raise or lower their eyes and blink, they're fully paralyzed otherwise. So rather than rely on optical keyboards as previous studies have, the Wyss team developed a means of reading patient's minds directly by measuring the flow of oxygenated blood flowing through their brains.
For the first 54 years of his life, Dennis DeGray was an active guy. In 2007 he was living in Pacific Grove, Calif., not far from the ocean and working at a beachside restaurant. Then, while taking out the trash one rainy night, he slipped, fell, and hit his chin on the pavement, snapping his neck between the second and third vertebrae. DeGray was instantly rendered, as he puts it, "completely nonfunctional from the collarbone south." He's since depended on caregivers to feed, clothe, and clean him and meet most any other need.
Brain computer interfaces might prevent superintelligent AI from ending the world. Elon Musk is a busy guy. Given Musk's ambitiousness, it's not totally surprising that he is also launching a company that will look into ways to link human brains to computers. Musk reportedly plans to spend 3-5% of his work time on Neuralink, which will develop technology to integrate brains and computers as a way to fix medical problems and eventually supercharge human cognition. Existing brain-computer interfaces, which are relatively simple compared to Musks's goals, can connect to a few hundred brain cells at a time.
A brain-to-computer technology that can translate thoughts into leg movements has enabled a man paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal cord injury to become the first such patient to walk without the use of robotics, doctors in California reported on Wednesday. The slow, halting first steps of the 28-year-old paraplegic were documented in a preliminary study published in the British-based Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, along with a YouTube video. Fritz works out with a spinal cord injury recovery specialist. He spent months training so a computer could recognize his leg-movement brain waves. The feat was accomplished using a system allowing the brain to bypass the injured spinal cord and instead send messages through a computer algorithm to electrodes placed around the patient's knees to trigger controlled leg muscle movements.