The development of brain-computer interfaces has been long-sought as a solution for victims of paralysis and amputees for communication and control of robotic limbs. A team of researchers headed by Itzhak Fried, M.D., Ph.D, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, have found an effective way to interpret signals from the brain into commanding a computer program to do certain tasks.
The study consisted of 12 subjects with epilepsy; the goal in this case was to understand the brain processes in seizures. A wire was placed in the memory and image recognition area of the brain (called the temporal lobe) and the subjects were asked to look at two images on a computer screen. The images were superimposed on top of each other and the subjects were told to focus their thoughts so that one image became fully visible while the other would fade away. Many of the subjects were able to do this on the first attempt, and as a whole they were successful in displaying only one image 70 percent of the time (out of 900 tries collectively).
The fact that this action was voluntary and the success of the researchers in isolating four brain cells in the temporal lobe where this decision making was taking place shows the great leaps made towards brain-computer interfaces. The study was funded by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and was published in Nature.
Reference: Cerf M et al. “On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons,” Nature, October 28, 2010.