Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012 - (Page 16)

turning thoughts into Action Almost 16 years ago, a woman suffered a brainstem stroke that left her quadriplegic and unable to speak but cognitively intact—a condition called locked-in syndrome. Researchers know her as S3: the number she was assigned as a participant in a clinical trial of a neural interface system called BrainGate. Neural interface systems allow people who are paralyzed by disease or injury to control external devices just by thinking about moving their paralyzed limbs. Last year, S3 made news when she operated a robotic arm to serve herself a sip of coffee, a task she accomplished using only her thoughts. Behind this groundbreaking achievement was a multidisciplinary team of scientists based at Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford University, and Providence VA Medical Center. Here, four BrainGate researchers discuss their contributions to this exciting project that, in the words of neuroengineer David Borton, makes “the thinkable possible.” AT THE INTERFACE OF BRAIN AND MACHINE BY DAN BACHER One day in late 2010, something remarkable happened that changed my life. I had been leading a project to develop a communication system for people with locked-in syndrome as part of my group’s work with the BrainGate Neural Interface System (NIS). For this specific project, our objective was to create an interface that would allow users to communicate using only their thoughts. I was responsible for developing the virtual keyboard software and integrating it with the NIS. On that day in 2010, the plan was to test my keyboard interface with clinical trial participant S3. At the time, her usual method of communicating was to slowly move her eyes to individual letters printed on a clear piece of plastic, while a person behind the plastic would record each letter she chose. But on this day, she would use only her thoughts to move and click a computer cursor to type with my onscreen keyboard. S3’s eyes lit up when she saw the keyboard. I was trying to demonstrate some of the features when instead she defiantly started typing on her own: first “thank,” then “you.” Those two simple words—so commonly and automatically exchanged— were the most powerful words that had ever been spoken to me. (I do mean spoken: S3 used the built-in text-to-speech feature I’d integrated to have the computer speak her message.) This transformative moment was the first of what would become a series of exciting, humbling, and emotional experiences with S3 and other participants in the BrainGate clinical trial. In the following months, I worked with a team of engineers to create software that could translate the BrainGate system’s command signals into coordinated movements of an advanced robotic arm. Months of long hours of developing, refining, and validating our software were put to the test in April 2011. I was by S3’s side once again when she used this robotic arm to give herself a drink of coffee. Controlling the robotic arm only with her imagined movements, she reached out, picked up a bottle, took a drink, and put the bottle back down onto the table—a feat she last performed with her own arm nearly 15 years earlier. 16 imagine sept/oct 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012
Big Picture
In My Own Words
The Proper Care and Feeding of the Teenage Brain
Building Brain Power Through the International Brain Bee
CTY Neuroscience
Same and Different
Braingate: Turning Thoughts Into Action
Shedding Light on Schizophrenia
Unraveling the Mysteries of Memory
Through the Looking Glass
Selected Opportunities & Resources
Fencing Lessons
Off the Shelf
Word Wise
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Students Review
Creative Minds Imagine
Mark Your Calendar
Knossos Games

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012

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