Researchers have designed a brain-reading cap that allows locked-in patients to communicate with their family members and doctors. According to physicians, people who suffer from locked-in syndrome are unable to even speak, as they are totally paralyzed.
Brain-Reading Cap Study
The research on the new device focused on four patients and was performed in Germany at the University of Tubingen. The brain-reading cap uses an fNIRS system, short for functional near-infrared spectroscopy, and works by detecting blood flow in the brain with the help of infrared light.
The researchers tested the device on the subjects who were asked simple questions. The system was able to analyze the blood flow in the brain and signaled “yes” for an affirmative answer and “no” for a negative one, respectively. However, the fNIRS system was only 70 percent accurate in differentiating between the patients’ responses. Nevertheless, researchers were able to engage in simple conversations with the subjects.
Hence, the team of researchers asked all four subjects whether they were satisfied with their lives. All of them answered with “yes”, in spite of their current condition. On one occasion, a man who was asked whether he approves of his daughter to marry her boyfriend he repeatedly answered with “no”, nine times out of ten.
The study’s lead neuroscientist, Niels Birbaumer, says his team of researchers is now focusing on improving the brain-reading cap capabilities in order to allow its users to engage in more complex conversations and provide more complex answers to questions than a simple “yes” or “no”. As inspiration, Niels Birbaumer cited Jean-Dominique Bauby’s blinking method for dictating The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
As opposed to the main character who could move his eyelids, however, locked-in patients are indeed the prisoners of their own bodies, to the point where the ability of speech is completely disabled. Nevertheless, Niels Birbaumer and his team of researchers are confident the brain-reading cap will allow individuals who suffer from the disease to communicate in meaningful ways in the near future.
At the moment, brain-reading tech is already used in glasses, helmets, and headbands. Among other functions, controlling Netflix or detecting stress levels are also included. Because of this, the researchers believe progress in the field of converting brainwaves into free speech in just around the corner.
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