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Brain Implants Could Be the Next Computer Mouse


A brain implant developed at Northwestern University.

More than $300 million has been raised by companies seeking to develop brain interfaces in the last 12 months.

Credit: Northwestern University

In a 12-by-20-foot room at a skilled-nursing facility in Menlo Park, California, researchers are testing the next evolution of the computer interface inside the soft matter of Dennis DeGray's motor cortex. DeGray is paralyzed from the neck down. He was hurt in a freak fall in his yard while taking out the trash and is, he says, "as laid up as a person can be." He steers his wheelchair by puffing into a tube.

But DeGray is a virtuoso at using his brain to control a computer mouse. For the last five years, he has been a participant in BrainGate, a series of clinical trials in which surgeons have inserted silicon probes the size of a baby aspirin into the brains of more than 20 paralyzed people. Using these brain-computer interfaces, researchers can measure the firing of dozens of neurons as people think of moving their arms and hands. And by sending these signals to a computer, the scientists have enabled those with the implants to grasp objects with robot arms and steer planes around in flight simulators.

DeGray is the world's fastest brain typist. He first established the mark four years ago, using his brain signals to roam over a virtual keyboard with a point-and-click cursor. Selecting letters on a screen, he reached a rate of eight correct words in a minute. Then, right before the covid-19 pandemic began, he demolished his own record, using a new technique where he imagined he was hand-­writing letters on lined paper. With that approach, he managed 18 words per minute.

From MIT Technology Review
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