New Record: Paralyzed Man Uses Brain Implant to Type Eight Words Per Minute
“What did you enjoy the most about your trip to the Grand Canyon?” the Stanford researchers asked.
In response, a cursor floated across a computer screen displaying a keyboard and confidently picked out one letter at a time. The woman controlling the cursor didn’t have a mouse under her hand, though. She’s paralyzed due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called Lou Gehrig’s disease) and can’t move her hands. Instead, she steered the cursor using a chip implanted in her brain.
“I enjoyed the beauty,” she typed.
The woman was one of three participants in a study, published today in the journal eLife, that broke new ground in the use of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) by people with paralysis. The woman who took the Grand Canyon trip demonstrated remarkable facility with a “free typing” task in which she answered questions however she chose. Another participant, a 64-year-old man paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, set a new record for speed in a “copy typing” task. Copying sentences like “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” he typed at a relatively blistering rate of eight words per minute.
That’s four times as fast as the previous world’s best, says Stanford neurosurgeon Jaimie Henderson, a senior member of the research team. Further improvements to the user interface—including the kind of auto-complete software that’s standard on smartphones—should boost performance dramatically.