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Research heralds better and bidirectional brain-computer interfaces



A pair of studies, one from Stanford and another from the University of Geneva, exemplify the speed with which brain-computer interfaces are advancing; and while you won’t be using one instead of a mouse and keyboard any time soon, even in its nascent form the tech may prove transformative for the disabled.

First comes work from Stanford: an improved microelectrode array and computer system that allows paralyzed users to type using an on-screen cursor.

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The “baby-aspirin-sized” array has 100 electrodes and can monitor individual neurons. It plugs into the motor cortex and users imagine moving a limb in the direction they want to move the cursor; with minimal training, some were outperforming extant systems and typing dozens of characters per minute without assistance.

“This study reports the highest speed and accuracy, by a factor of three, over what’s been shown before,” said Stanford engineering professor and co-author of the report, Krishna Shenoy, in a news release.

The hope, naturally, is to improve the rate at which paralysis-stricken people can communicate, as well as simplify the setup process. But being able to easily and accurately move a cursor around a screen means interacting with an ordinary computer would be much easier as well. So in addition to simply typing, people could easily navigate the web, play games, and so on.