Touchpads are so last year. A new study in Nature suggests that "thought-pads" could be in our future. Twelve epilepsy patients with wires implanted in their brains (common in sufferers of severe epilepsy) had those wires hooked up to a computer. Researchers showed them two images, then told the patients to try to "think away" one of the images by focusing on the other. "The subjects were able to use their thoughts to override the images they saw on the computer screen," said Dr. Itzhak Fried, a UCLA neurosurgeon who authored the study. The 12 subjects collectively tried the exercise 900 times, and were successful almost three quarters of the time. (Citing patient confidentiality, Fried's coauthor Dr. Moran Cerf apologized that he couldn't share an image of the clinical set-up. Instead, enjoy this wonderfully trippy image of a jacked-in man obsessed with über-celebrities who died tragically before their time.)

This all might seem very sci-fi, but it's a realm of science that has been brewing for years. Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, as they're called, are becoming an increasingly common feature of the medical landscape, as neurological researchers seek to help paralytics escape the prison of their immobile bodies. We may not be in the realm of Avatar quite yet, but as this slideshow demonstrates, we're getting there.

Another leader in the brain-computer interface field is Duke's Miguel "Mike" Nicolelis, pictured here with a robotic claw. Nicolelis's work, in essence, involves reading monkeys' minds. In collaboration with a robotics team in Japan, Nicolelis recently trained a monkey to use its brain to manipulate the walking patterns of a robot on the other side of the world.
Duke restricts imagery of its animal research. The University of Pittsburgh does not. Here, a time-lapse photo shows a monkey manipulating a robotic arm through the sheer force of its will. (It had a strong enough incentive--it was able to feed itself that way.) The research was conducted by Dr. Andrew Schwartz of Pitt's neurobiology department.
What's cutting-edge science without a little frivolity? Researchers with the Berlin Brain-Computer Interface Project recently demonstrated how you don't need necessarily need arms to play pinball.
Using similar technology, Johns Hopkins Researchers enabled a congenital amputee to play the video game Wolfenstein using electromyographic signals from his residual limb. Electromyography, or EMG, is a technique that records the electrical activity of muscles.
Nearing the dream of mobility for the paralyzed, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL, per its French acronym) recently developed a brain-computer interface that enables wheelchair mobility. An image from September shows a Ph.D. student trying it out; trials with real patients will be coming soon.
Another angle on the Swiss wheelchair experiment.
A recent experiment at The European Future Technologies Conference and Exhibition in Prague in 2009: a brain-computer interface orchestra. It sounded better than expected, reports the listener who took this picture.
And here, another attendee at the Prague conference sports the latest in BCI fashion.

The Coming "Thought-Pad" Revolution

Touchpads are so last year. A new study in Nature suggests that "thought-pads" could be in our future. Twelve epilepsy patients with wires implanted in their brains (common in sufferers of severe epilepsy) had those wires hooked up to a computer. Here's a look at the results.

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