Brain-controlled prosthesis nearly as good as one-finger typing

Aug 4, 2015

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kao, Shenoy Lab

By Stanford School of Engineering

When we type or perform other precise tasks, our brains and muscles usually work together effortlessly.

But when a neurological disease or spinal cord injury severs the connection between the brain and limbs, once-easy motions become difficult or impossible.

In recent years researchers have sought to give people suffering from injury or disease some restored motor function by developing thought-controlled prostheses.

Such devices tap into the relevant regions of the brain, bypass damaged connections and deliver thought commands to devices such as virtual keypads.

But brains are complex. Actions and thoughts are orchestrated by millions of neurons — biological switches that fire faster or slower in dynamic patterns.

Brain-controlled prostheses currently work with access to a sample of only a few hundred neurons, but need to estimate motor commands that involve millions of neurons. So tiny errors in the sample — neurons that fire too fast or too slow — reduce the precision and speed of thought-controlled keypads.


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