Category: Encoding Communicator

Brain Scanning Speller

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-- PROTOTYPE --------- PURPOSE: To create a prototype a brain-scanning speller for individuals who have communication or neurological disabilities or have experienced stroke or brain injury. Researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands have developed a device that provides people who are completely unable to speak or move at all with a means to communicate. The device builds upon previous work using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) technology. FMRI is a non-invasive technique that measures brain activity by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity. It has previously been used to assess consciousness in people described as being in an unconscious, vegetative state and enable them to answer yes/no questions. This was then expanded to allow individuals to answer the equivalent of multiple-choice questions having four or fewer possible answers. Maastricht University’s Bettina Sorger and her colleagues have taken this approach one step further by creating a real-time, brain-scanning speller. The team developed a letter-encoding technique in which participants were asked to perform a particular mental task for a set period of time to signify a specific character. They produced 27 distinct brain patterns corresponding to each letter of the alphabet and a space character. The letter-encoding technique required almost no pre-training and the 27 distinct brain patterns could be automatically decoded in real time. Communication experiments carried out by the team saw participants holding a mini-conversation consisting of two open ended questions and answers. Every participant tested was able to successfully produce answers within a single one-hour session. Unfortunately, MRI machines are bulky and expensive pieces of equipment but researchers hope that fMRI technologies can be transferred to a more portable and affordable method of measuring blood flow, such as the functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). AUTHOR: Darren Quick. TITLE: Real-time, brain-scanning speller gives the silent a voice. WEBSITE: Gizmag. REF:


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Brain Scanning Speller