January 24, 2020


By Jennifer Dawson, Special to California Business Journal.

Scientists have recently improved current brain-computer interface technologies that allow people with paralysis to operate a table just by thinking about making cursor movements and clicks.

The general population might view a tablet as a normal part of their everyday life, yet for people living with paralysis, they haven’t provided the same benefits — until now.

As emerging technologies continue to increase the ways in which tablets can be used, consumers are able to unlock more and more benefits from their devices.

How the Technology Works

study published on November 21st in the journal PLOS ONE showed how three clinical trial participants with tetraplegia were able to navigate their way through various apps on a tablet. These apps ranged from email and chat programs to video-sharing. The study required the subjects to wear a mini sensor that recorded neural activity via their motor cortex, which is used for planning and controlling voluntary movements. The sensor takes these signals and decodes them into instructions for the software to carry out. The study noted that, of the accomplishments, one of the most impressive is that the participants were able to make up to 22 point-and-click selections per minute. While traditionally used in settings to help impaired individuals to regain motor skills, these types of advancements have far-reaching benefits in the business world as the technology has the potential to completely transform the speed with which institutions can operate.

Wide-Reaching Benefits

This technology, emerging from the innovative minds at BrainGate, has wide-reaching effects that go far beyond working with a tablet, as the same technology has been used to allow paralyzed individuals to control robotic arms or regain control of their own limbs. Of the study, Dr. Jaimie Henderson, a senior author of the paper and a Stanford University neurosurgeon stated: “For years, the BrainGate collaboration has been working to develop the neuroscience and neuroengineering know-how to enable people who have lost motor abilities to control external devices just by thinking about the movement of their own arm or hand.” The study also revealed that the participants believed the software to be more intuitive than they remember when having to work and maneuver a mouse, which begs the question of whether or not this could improve the speed and efficiency with which consumers in general work with their tablets and the speed with which AI and other smart machines can respond to customer inquiries and issues.

The Freedom of Movement

One of the bioengineers at Stanford who was a part of the study said: “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.” Researchers noted that, while current assistive technologies work great for various other consumers, they rely on voice-activated commands and are limited in the flexibility of the interface and the speed with which they can carry out commands.

Perfecting the Future

The more research and time spent invested in this technology means that the software and capabilities can be immensely improved. As technology is perfected and understood, it can be made more widely accessible to those who need it and can benefit from it the most. For now, it pays to think about just how fortunate you likely are to have clicked on this article and scanned it with your mouse.


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