Brain Scanning Tech Enables Back-and-forth Communication in the Absence of Motor Behavior

Researchers in the Netherlands are developing the first real-time brain scanning speller, a device that can help people who are unable to move or speak take part in unscripted conversations.

The technology builds on earlier uses of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans that made it possible for unconscious or “vegetative” people to answer questions with a yes or no.

“The work of Adrian Owen and colleagues led me to wonder whether it might even become possible to use fMRI, mental tasks, and appropriate experimental designs to freely encode thoughts, letter-by-letter, and therewith enable back-and-forth communication in the absence of motor behavior.”

— Bettina Sorger, Maastricht University

Mind-reading speller “may enable people who are completely unable to speak or move at all to nevertheless manage unscripted back-and-forth conversation.”

The researchers report that their results have substantially extended earlier fMRI uses that allowed individuals to answer multiple-choice questions (four or fewer potential options).

Enabling free-letter spelling, Sorger continues, “…could make all the difference for people who are completely paralyzed and unable to benefit from other means of alternative communication.”

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© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.


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