At Stanford University researchers have managed to use an implanted multi-electrode array to read the brain signals of monkeys thinking of typing letters on a screen and to convert those signals into the target letters at a rate of 12 words per minute. Such technology has been tried in the past on humans, but the results have been somewhat underwhelming because the typing was really slow. At 12 words per minute things are looking way more impressive and the research gives a great deal of hope for people with severe paralysis to be able to communicate better, control electronic devices, and regain a voice that they lost to injury or disease.
While the hardware has the capability of reading signals at high resolution, having software interpret them quickly enough was the challenge the team worked on in this latest iteration of the project. The electrodes are positioned over the brain area responsible for hand and arm movement and the users of the system were expected to move the mouse cursor on the screen as though they’re holding onto it with their own hand.
Since monkeys aren’t good at spelling, the interface lights up the letter that needs to be pressed and the animals were taught that clicking along gets them a treat. After a bit of training and refining the data processing algorithms, the team was able to achieve this impressive feat. While impressive in itself, there’s a great deal of room to make the system even faster if a bit of word completion and other technologies we have on our smartphones can be integrated into the software.
Here’s an example of a monkey typing through thought alone:
Study in Proceedings of IEEE: A Nonhuman Primate Brain–Computer Typing Interface…