In addition to trying to turn thoughts that would usually be spoken into text, researchers are working toward changing thoughts about writing into text. There are times when someone is able to speak, but not write, so not all people who are paralyzed need to have their spoken words translated. When someone writes, they access different neural signals, and this is being used by researchers to try to help people who are unable to write to have the ability to produce written text.
Researchers are examining several ways to translate brain signals into writing. Studies began with understanding which parts of the brain are accessed when a person begins writing. The device was hooked up to the patient, who then thought about writing, causing the device to react to his thoughts. As a result, text began to print out on the screen. It had the added advantage of speed; the text typed at about 90 characters a minute, nearly twice as fast as the previous record .
When a person loses the ability to write or move as they once did (whether the problem is an injury or illness), the brain is still trying to send the same signals, but they are being interrupted. The same technology is being used to help work with artificial limbs. Although there are different needs for every individual in terms of what they need to live in a way that more closely matches how they lived their lives prior to the problem, the way the brain works is similar for all people. By decoding different signals, researchers hope to better understand other neural activity, such as speech and limb movements. Until recently, there had not been much attention given to writing, which does require access to a different set of neurological activities. One of the coauthors, Krishna Shenoy, headed a group that specifically looked at the way the brain translates the desired action of writing – of actually putting pen to paper. The clinical trial was called BrainGate2. The sensor was implanted directly into the area of the brain in charge of managing a person’s hand and arm. The participant for the trial was 65 years old and had suffered an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Once connected to the device, he thought about writing, imagining what it was like. The device processed his thoughts about writing and learned based on the algorithms set up to determine the patterns. Different letters had various patterns, letting the machine know what to write when the patient thought about it.
The project is not yet complete. The team wants to work with a patient who can’t speak, as well as being paralyzed. They want to develop a system that can benefit a wide range of people so that it can help patients regardless of the root cause for a person’s paralysis or loss of abilities.
If you would like to learn more about this unique and potentially life changing technology, you can read the full article at Brain Computer Interface Turns Mental Handwriting into Text on Screen. It includes a short YouTube clip if you want a quicker explanation while on the go.