Researchers from the bioengineering and kinesiology departments at the University of Maryland have pioneered a novel method of using electroencephalography to monitor and decode brainwaves. The brainwaves in question hold the potential to communicate with and control computers and prosthetic devices. It was previously assumed that that electrodes would have to be implanted into the brain to achieve these results, but the new development makes use of noninvasive electrodes on the scalp, according to an article in Scientific American.
Neuroscientist and electrical engineer Jose Contreras-Vidal heads up the team of researchers who reported in the March issue of The Journal of Neuroscience that they have discovered a method of decoding brainwaves mathematically into clear communication that will translate into movement. He told Scientific American, ‘This means we can use a noninvasive method to develop the next generation of brain’“computer interface machines. It can expand considerably the range of clinical and rehabilitative applications.’ The noninvasive method involves an ‘electrode covered head cap.’ The only downside is a bit of messy conductive gel rubbed onto the scalp; a small trade-off for spinal cord injury sufferers who regain the ability to walk and move.
The development of the new technology by Contreras-Vidal and his team hold far reaching implications for those suffering with traumatic brain injuries spinal cord injuries, and degenerative brain and spinal cord disorders. Healthy volunteers have already demonstrated the ability to move cursors on a screen and to move an artificial arm using nothing more than their brain waves, the article said. The electrode cap gives scientists the ability to decode information from the entire brain, so even when a patient has suffered damage to one part of the brain, another part may compensate and still provide enough information to evoke movement by way of computer interfaces.
The first patients to test the devices will be stroke victims and below-elbow amputees. In addition to visual feedback, Contreras-Vidal said his team plans to integrate other forms of sensory feedback into their devices to provide more control over the devices.
Moisse, Katie. (March 2, 2010) ‘No Impants Needed: Movement-Generating Brain Waves Detected and Decoded Outside the Head.’ Retrieved on March 3, 2010 from the Scientific American Web site: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=brain-controlled-movement