A 24 year old quadriplegic man plays computer games andchecks his email just by thinking about it thanks to a smallsensor surgically implanted into the man?s motor cortex.The tiny chip monitors signals sent from up to 100 neuronsat a time.
Cyberkinetics, a Massachusetts company, developed theminuscule BrainGate chip as an alternative to more difficultmethods used by quadriplegics to control their environment,usually with tongue or eye movements. These options areincredibly difficult to master, as well as entirelydependent on quality of muscle function, which in some casesof paralysis can be unreliable.
Researchers have also reported that BrainGate users canperform multiple tasks at once, since the electrodes on thechip can monitor up to 100 neurons at a time. The firstpatient is reportedly able to talk, change televisionchannels, and move his head at the same time, which isimpossible when dependent on tongue or eye movements.
Despite the great leap, the technology still has a long wayto go, according to Stephen Roberts of Oxford University, anengineer who specializes in brain-computer interfaces. Oncethe sensor chips are able to access more neurons, patientswill have even greater control over their environment.Roberts explains that it will be a while before the devicescan be useful to the majority of paralyzed patients.
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