Ed Yeates ReportingImagine doing something just by thinking about it. That's exactly what researchers hope an electronic chip, implanted in the brain, will allow a paralyzed person to do.
Here in our own backyard a company called Cyberkinetics is building miniature electronic chips using wires smaller than a human hair. Once implanted just under the skull, they might allow paralyzed people to command computers by simply thinking about it.
What is the research team hoping for? A disabled person sitting in a wheelchair, without any use of their arms or hands, could simply sit in front of a computer and think a command, and the computer responds.
In animal experiments so far, monkeys played a video dot game without a joystick, by simply firing off neurons in the brain. Now the FDA has given Cyberkinetics approval to implant these electrodes into five paralyzed human volunteers.
Tim Surgenor, CEO, Cyberkinetics Inc.: "We're going to have to get them to imagine or to visualize a movement as opposed to making a movement to help us build that first filter."
The implantable arrays were actually developed by University of Utah bioengineers for the artificial eye project. In that case, electrodes stimulate the brain in blind volunteers by deciphering signals dispatched through computerized eyeglass cameras. For the blind, it could mean seeing some things again.
Or, as the electrodes pick up signals and send them out, paralyzed people could move computerized artificial arms and legs or wheelchairs without moving.
Dr. Richard Normann, University of Utah Bioengineering: "Wanting to move a wheelchair to the left, moving a wheelchair to the right. Starting a wheelchair, stopping a wheelchair - just through volitional thought."
If all these experiments prove out, imagine a scenario in the future where someone paralyzed could command a central computer in their home to turn on lights, appliances, even cook meals.