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Project Lets Paralyzed ‘Tweet’ Using their Brain

April 24 2009 | by

Scientists have developed a way to let people with paralysis post messages on Twitter using electrical impulses generated by thought.

The Brain-Twitter project was developed by a doctoral student, Adam Wilson, at the University of Wisconsin. It underscores the promise of neuroscience, by which humans would be able to control movements with their brains. Recently, scientists have been teaching monkeys to control robotic limbs using only thought and electrical impulses.

A video by the University of Wisconsin’s NITRO lab shows how the project works. No keyboards are used. The Twitterer dons a cap fitted with electrodes that monitor brain activity, hooked up to a computer flashing letters on a screen. First they concentrate on the letters they want to “type,” then focus on the word “twit” at the bottom of the screen. The message then gets posted live, in 140 characters or less, of course.

The development could be a lifeline for people with paralysis or conditions — such as a stroke or degenerative disease like ALS — in which the brain functions normally but the person cannot speak or move. Researchers call Twitter an ideal venue for people with severe paralysis because the short message site is easy to use, and there’s no formatting required.

For now, people with speech disorders can use augmentative communications devices such as the EyeMax by Dynavox, which allows people to talk to family and friends, send email and surf the web using their eyes. For those with mobility impairments, speech-recognition programs such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance still remain a good alternative for typing. Other alternative input devices allow users to interact with their computers in a variety of ways, including using their feet, head, mouth, breath, thumb, or a single finger. Go to Abledata to find out more.

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