Brain-computer interface research is finally starting to take off because the expansion of computer capacity has broadened people's ability to digitize and process numerous individual neural impulses concurrently and apply more sophisticated mathematical decoding algorithms to those impulses, says Case Western Reserve University professor Dawn M. Taylor. She is a researcher at the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center, where the focus is the restoration of movement and function to paralysis victims through the application of electrical current to the peripheral nerves.
"Basically, we are reconnecting the brain to the muscles so people can control their paralyzed limb just by thinking about doing so," Taylor says. "Intended movements can also be used to control other technologies, such as prosthetic limbs, assistive robots, or a computer mouse."
Taylor says the least invasive method for recording neural signals is external surface electroencephalograms, while sensors also can be implanted atop the brain, within the skull, or under the scalp. She says that ideally the same neurons should be recorded for decades so the brain can learn how to trigger those neurons to control a device. Taylor postulates that advancements in technology miniaturization and wireless communication should eventually enable the shrinkage of all the equipment and processors used in the lab to a package that can be carried on a wheelchair or implanted within the body. She says the FES Center has developed a hand-grasp system for people who cannot move their hands due to spinal cord injuries, which has been commercialized.
Taylor also says that electrode technologies can be used to stimulate the brain and circumvent fissures in the neural pathways that bring sensory information in.
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