02 Nov 2016
World innovation news
Information and Communications Technologies
A Monkey Types 12 Words per Minute via a BCI
To be or not to be. That is the question. This famous phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet was typed on a virtual keyboard by a monkey, using only his brain waves. And by the way, this is not an excerpt from The Planet of the Apes!
With the brain-computer interface they developed, researchers at Stanford University conducted successful experiments on a group of monkeys who were able to transcribe texts by Shakespeare and from the New York Times with a typing speed of 12 words per minute. A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a direct-link system between a brain and a computer, allowing the user to perform tasks simply by thinking and without going through the peripheral nerves and muscles. The primates were trained to use their neural implants to move a cursor on a computer screen and type lit circles designating successively what letters of the text to write.
The monkeys were fitted with an intracranial EEG (electroencephalogram), a set of electrodes – implanted via an invasive procedure on the part of the motor cortex – that provides a precise reading of brain activity responsible for arm movement. By measuring the electrical activity of the neurons in Phase 1, where the monkeys learned to control the cursor using their own arms, then in Phase 2, where they used thought only, the algorithms analyzed the data flow in both cases and detected the similarities.
A machine-learning algorithm helped detect the patterns linked to the intentions of moving left, right, up and down, and translate them into keystrokes on the virtual keyboard displayed on the screen.
Although similar technologies have already been implemented, this system is much more accurate and faster than anything that currently exists.
The ultimate goal of the researchers is to implement BCIs that could greatly help people with paralysis who cannot otherwise communicate. Similar clinical tests were conducted on humans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Charcot disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Using an Android tablet, a woman with ALS was able to type 6 words per minute, allowing her to communicate and to browse the Internet.
Darine Ameyed is a postdoctoral associate researcher at the ÉTS Synchromedia Laboratory. She is also scientific project manager at CIRODD.
Program : Automated Manufacturing Engineering
Research chair : Canada Research Chair in Smart Sustainable Eco-Cloud
Research laboratories : SYNCHROMEDIA – Multimedia Communication in Telepresence