Monday, November 1, 2010

Have you ever wanted to control things with your mind? Well now you can!

Imagine being unable to move. For many people with neurodegenerative diseases or who have become paralyzed, this is part of their day-to-day life. Simple tasks like turning on a computer or even eating became the most difficult of tasks; and up until now, there wasn`t much that could be done for those afflicted. Until now!

Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a neurologist and associate professor of engineering at the Virginia Medical Centre in Rhode Island and BrainGate Company have developed BrainGate 2, a neural interface system that can assist those that are severely handicapped in interacting using the power of their brains!

The system works by implanting a small sensor on the person`s motor cortex, the surface region of your brain that deals with voluntary motor control. The sensor picks up signals produced by this region (they're still produced even though they're not received by the arms and legs), and transmits them to the BrainGate device, which can then be translated to mouse movements. This effectively allows the person to interact with a computer through their thoughts! This can also be extended to other forms of interaction to include answering the phone, and even controlling their wheelchair.

The neural interface system is currently undergoing clinical trials but is already in use by some individuals to interact with their computers. Here's a video of Matt Nagle, the first person to be implanted with the sensor:

 

The cool thing about this discovery is not so much the immediate discovery itself but the implications of what this could mean for not only disabled individuals but the population at large. Don't get me wrong, controlling your computer is nice, but this could be the start of brain-computer hybridization, the ability to supplement our brains with computer interface. Imagine having the creativity and abstract thought of a human and the processing speed of a computer. The other obvious benefits are already being studied by the BrainGate's initial developers. Potential future research in the field could provide more than just computer interface but signaling human muscles to move once again, since the majority of immobile handicapped individuals have problems with nerve signals not reaching muscles, not the muscle function itself. I'm extremely interested to know where this will be heading in the near future and you should be too, for all you know in the future people might be confused when you ask them about paralysis.

Dr Hochberg`s website can be found here: http://leigh.hochberg.com/
and for more information on BrainGate2, see the website here:
http://www.braingate.com/index.html

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