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Stanford brain typing experiment
Image: Paul Nuyujukian

Now, type with your mind alone!

Emerging technologies are proving to be a great leveler. They are helping us do things that we thought were impossible, even few years ago. This experiment by researchers of Stanford University is a case in point. Their technology can help you write without using your eyes or hands!

Using their technology, the researchers were able to get monkeys to transcribe passages from the New York Times and Hamlet at a rate of up to 12 words per minute.

One of the biggest advantages of this technology is that it can directly read brain signals. So it can help people communicate their thoughts and emotions alone — especially useful for people with movement disorders and who can’t control their muscles. The study cites the example of Stephen Hawking.

“For example, Stephen Hawking wasn’t able to use eye-tracking software due to drooping eyelids and other people find eye-tracking technology tiring.”

How does the system work?

The researchers implanted multi-electrode arrays in the region of the brain that directs hand and arm movements used to move a computer mouse. In simple terms, multi-electrode arrays serve as an interface that connect neurons  to an electronic circuit.

The team then worked on an algorithm to translate those signals — in terms of movement and letter selection. And, the researchers contend that the algorithm has helped them manage to post better typing speed and accuracy.

“The interface we tested is exactly what a human would use,” postdoctoral fellow Paul Nuyujukian said. “What we had never quantified before was the typing rate that could be achieved.”

Results of the study

The technology allowed monkeys to type with their minds. And, at a speed of 12 words per minute. The study says,

People using this system would likely type more slowly, the researchers said, while they think about what they want to communicate or how to spell words. People might also be in more distracting environments and in some cases could have additional impairments that slow the ultimate communication rate.

A team led by electrical engineer Krishna Shenoy developed technology that detects brain signals to move a cursor. Animals trained to copy text using the technology were able to type at a rate of 12 words per minute. Video courtesy: Paul Nuyujukian

The experiments also showed that the implants have a relatively long life. And, more importantly, it didn’t cause any side-effects in the animals.

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