Computers haven’t done much for the quality of our already poor handwriting. However, a man paralyzed by an accident can now feed input into a computer by simply thinking about handwriting, thanks to work by Stanford University researchers. Compared to more cumbersome systems based on eye motion or breath, the handwriting technique enables entry at up to 90 characters a minute.
Currently, the feat requires a lab’s worth of equipment, but it could be made practical for everyday use with some additional work and — hopefully — less invasive sensors. In particular, the sensor used two microelectrode arrays in the precentral gyrus portion of the brain. When the subject thinks about writing, recognizable patterns appear in the collected data. The rest is just math and classification using a neural network.
If you want to try your hand at processing this kind of data and don’t have a set of electrodes to implant, you can download nearly eleven hours of data already recorded. The code is out there, too. What we’d really like to see is some easier way to grab the data to start with. That could be a real game-changer.
More traditional input methods using your mouth have been around for a long time. We’ve also looked at work that involves moving your head.
It is difficult to put yourself as an able-bodied person into the experiences of a person with a physical disability. Able-bodied people are quick with phrases such as “Confined to a wheelchair” with little idea of what that really means, and might be surprised to meet wheelchair users who would point out that far from being a prison their chair might, in fact, be their tool of liberation.
It is also difficult for an able-bodied person to understand some of the physical effects of using a wheelchair. In particular, some wheelchair users with paralysis can suffer from dangerous pressure sores without being aware of them due to their loss of feeling. Such people, therefore, have a regime of exercises designed to relieve the pressure that causes the sores, and these exercises must be completed as often as every half hour. They can be inconvenient and difficult to perform, so in an effort to help people in that position there is a Hackaday Prize entry that provides feedback on how effectively the exercise regime has been performed.
The project puts an array of force-sensitive resistors on the bed of the chair underneath its cushion and monitors them with an Arduino before giving a feedback to the user via a set of LEDs. So far they have created a first prototype, and are awaiting parts and recruiting users for testing a second.
It would be nice to think that this project would have a positive impact on the lives of the people it aims to help. It’s not the first time the Hackaday Prize has ventured into this field, as the 2015 winner demonstrates.
Our little red-eyed friend can drive this vehicle around with his mind. WITH HIS MIND, MAN!
This is the product of research into adaptive technologies. The process is pretty invasive, implanting neural electrodes in the motor cortex of the brain. The hope is that some day this will be a safe and reliable prospect for returning mobility to paralysis victims.
We found it interesting that the vehicle was trained to react to the rats’ movements. They were allowed to move around a test space under their own power while brain signals were monitored by the electrodes. Video tracking was used to correlate their movements with those signals, and that data is used to command the motors for what the Japanese researchers are calling RatCar.
We can see the possibilities opening up for a mechanized cockroach v. RatCar free-for-all. Something of a battlebots with a live tilt. But we kid, this is actually quite creepy.
[via Neatorama and PopSci]
The HAL two-leg exoskeleton is now available for rent in Tokyo for $2300 per month. We saw the HAL in our power suit roundup from last year. There is footage of this lower-extremity suit demonstrated by three people. The video is a bit creepy because the they are apparently just out for a stroll in the city.
We really do want to see this succeed. Every time another advancement in exoskeletons comes around we glimpse the future of mobility and freedom for victims of paralysis. The machine is controlled via an interface that picks up electrical impulses on the surface of the skin. The built in battery provides power for up to five hours of operation before recharging is necessary.