Computers are so integral to work and play today that it can be difficult for anyone unable to use one to function in a normal work setting. Researchers working on a brain computer interface have been able to allow two paralyzed people to type using their brains and a neural implant at six words per minute. That certainly isn’t what most consider speedy typing but it’s impressive considering that the users move the cursor on the screen using nothing but their brain.
Using the system requires a prosthetic to be implanted into the brain of the user to control the computer cursor. The neural system that the users and researchers are working with is called BrainGate2.
The implant is strictly experimental right now, but so far it has proven that it can allow quadriplegics to use a computer independently. Both of the volunteers for the study have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a degenerative neural disorder that leads to complete paralysis. The lead researcher on this project is Jaimie Henderson from the Stanford Neural Prosthetics Translational Lab.
The BrainGate2 system features an array of tiny electrodes that are implanted into the brain directly into a region of the motor cortex that is known as the “hand knob.” The electrodes are able to record patterns of activity in those neurons that occur when the person thinks about moving their index finger on a track pad. Those electrodes are able to turn that neural activity into real activity on the computer screen.