Future Tense

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Technology: miroECoG Electrodes

Purpose: To interpret brain signals so disabled people, like those who are paralyzed or suffered a stroke or lost limbs, will be able to communicate or control bionic limbs with their thoughts

Developer: Being tested at the University of Utah

How it works: The microECoG (electrocorticography) electrodes are placed under the skull about 2 to 3 millimeters apart over the brain area that controls a certain function, like one arm and hand, for example. Based on the power or amplitude of the brain waves, the electrodes can accurately distinguish brain signals ordering the arm to reach to the right or left. The devices send signals to a computer system that can convert the thoughts of an amputee into a signal that would control a prosthetic arm. The devices could also help paralyzed or stroke patients communicate using a computer to convert thoughts into audible words.

Potential improvement: The microECoG electrodes are small enough to be placed under the skull but on top of brain areas where it is risky to place electrodes that may puncture brain tissue, such as centers that control speech, memory, and other cognitive functions. The microECoG electrodes may also provide a more durable interface with the brain and have a longer lifespan than electrodes that penetrate brain tissue. It is also an improvement over electroencephalography, which places electrodes on the scalp, because brain signals can be distorted when they pass through the skull.

What's next: Researchers are working to develop better computer software that can interpret brain signals detected by microECoG in real-time so that they can be converted into actions. Severely epileptic patients will then test the system to control a "virtual reality arm" in a computer using their thoughts.

Carrie Vaughan

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