Research

Thought reading computer allows brain injured communicate

People who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and who are unable to speak or move are being given the first chance to communicate using just the power of thought and a laptop loaded with sophisticated algorithms. The ground-breaking system has been devised by Dr Paul Gnanayutham (right) at the University of Portsmouth. He has devoted his life to giving people locked into silence after major brain injury the power to communicate but though his system works it will remain a lifeline for only a lucky few unless he wins funding. The system uses patients’ brain waves and eye and muscular movements (together called bio-potentials) to move a cursor on a computer. The targets a person can point the cursor at on the prototype device could include ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘thank you’, a switch to turn on an electrical appliance such as a television, and a link to an internet page of the patient’s choice, though the targets can be changed to anything a person prefers to say, or watch, or do. This is not the first system to use brain waves to navigate a cursor, but Dr Gnanayutham’s is one of the first to be used on real people with serious brain injuries, rather than confined to a laboratory and tested on the able-bodied. All that is now needed for it to reach more people is funding to turn it into a product that can bought and used without expert help. He said: “This technology has been around but very few people have used it for anything worthwhile, I worked with traumatic brain injured participants who were paraplegics, non-verbal and tube-fed to give them a voice and the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a computer screen by using their bio-potentials. “Learning how to navigate using their facial muscles or brainwaves isn’t easy and can take months. I worked for eight months with one young man who hadn’t communicated after his brain stem was broken in an accident. His mother knew he was ‘there’ and wasn’t giving up on her son but there had been no sign, no movement, nothing until he started using the brain wave system. “It turned out he was very angry

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