Paralyzed Individuals Operate Tablet with Brain Implant

Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is becoming more useful than it was anticipated. Initially, it was thought as just another scientific venture to hack into the brain and explore how its regions operate. But from recent progress, this concept seems to have many undiscovered medical benefits.

Last year, a study by BrainGate reported how a paralyzed man managed to type words on a device via thoughts alone, with a speed of up to 8 words per minute, through a brain-computer interface.

Now, in a clinical study christened BrainGate2, which we may say it’s an advancement of the previous, the same BCI model was used to demonstrate three participants being able to operate a tablet device, directly from the brain without touching it.

What this Means in Real Life Application


Besides the amazement and the fact that this is a huge milestone in the human-machine interface technology, this concept is good news to both patients and doctors. In this case, the tech helped participants do tasks that they couldn’t at their state of being paralyzed; like sending messages, playing an electronic keyboard, shopping online and the rest – which means people who lost their movement dues to diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ALS would be able to do things for themselves again.

ALS in precise is a neurodegenerative condition that may gradually interfere with a person’s motor function system. Mobility in living things is complex because most of its functions involve the sensory mechanism, where signals must be passed on and interpreted to see a response.

The Study: Operating Tablet with Brain Implant


The research involved three participants with ALS or what doctors call Lou Gehrig’s disease — in ordinary language, this is spinal cord injury, which causes loss of movement. So each patient was fitted with a brain implant, plus an array of microelectrodes – as being part of other BrainGate2 clinical tests.

The purpose of the microelectrodes was to decode neural signals and relay the same through what the researchers’ termed as the industry-standard Brain Interface Device protocol. Among key parts, the interface contains a virtual mouse, which the users used to maneuver their way around the device. In precise, the “mouse” used was paired via Bluetooth to a Google Nexus 9 tablet.

To show diversity in application, the participants were given a range of different tasks, in form of operating seven commonly used apps.  The target apps on the tablet included a web browser, email, chat, music streaming, video sharing, a news aggregator and a weather program. A keyboard, a calculator, and an Amazon interface for shopping grocery apps were later introduced as users confirmed that they needed an additional app.

The Amazing Observation and Conclusion

So here comes the most interesting part, with no hand involved, only thoughts, the participants managed to make up to 22 point-and-click on device selections, typed up to thirty characters per minute on text programs and email, while two really enjoyed chatting with each other.

Besides bringing that hope of being able to communicate and do things, on patients who’ve lost their movement through such a technology — it is a clear hint that people can have full control over their thought-life.

That is, with deeper research, this might lead to better therapy for depression and other mental issues. The researchers give the notion that there is a lot this approach of human-machine integration can offer if followed through.