Brain-computer interface technology helping those suffering from paralysis

You know what they say, “If you can’t go through something directly, it’s probably best to try going around it”.  Needless to say, that’s exactly what researchers for the TOBI project (TOols for Brain-computer Interaction) have done.  Instead of trying to connect non-respondent muscles to a patient’s brain internally (via the nervous system), they have created a method where brain activity is measured and sent to a computer, which in turn, processes it and then sends commands to various electrodes which are positioned above the muscles that are to be controlled.  In short, this amazing little system actually gives a person the ability to move a paralyzed limb using only the power of their thoughts!

In essence, this technology is created a new set of neural pathways between the brain and various muscle groups.  In other words (and as previously stated), it’s a bit like created an external nervous system / grid which is used to control specific groups of otherwise paralyzed muscles.

How does it work?  First, the patient is fitted with a mesh helmet that can read EEG waves.  That device is connected directly to a computer that basically identifies specific patterns which are related to controlling those muscles in question.  Through a little bit of concentration, the patient is able to once again move their once paralyzed limb.  However, what’s perhaps even more astonishing than the technology itself is the supplemental effect it has on the user.  You see, some patients are actually able to retain some of this perceived “reconnection”, even after the machine has been disconnected!  In other words, this technology is being heralded as perhaps the first step toward developing a universal method which might allow patients to forge new connections between their paralyzed muscles and brain.

How is this possible, you ask?  During some of the experiments in question, it was discovered that patients were able to re-grow or regenerate some nerves.  Yes, by simply undergoing some fairly intense concentration exercises, some people in the very near future might be able to recover from degenerative conditions which were once thought to be incurable and/or repair damaged nerve connections amassed during an accident.  While it’s still largely unclear and speculative at this point, it seems that there is definitive hope for those who might be suffering from conditions like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or perhaps even neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Similarly, through the increased study in this field, it’s entirely possible that we might see entirely new segments of consumer devices spring forth.  For example, this same EEG – computer interface technology has also been utilized in tandem with robotic devices.  The same results were recorded in those tests as well; patients were able to physically control small robots using only the power of their thoughts to do so.  Needless to say, the potential range of applications for such a technology is staggering.  Just imagine being able to send in advanced human-thought-controlled robots to burning buildings or contaminated sites.  The increased power of the robot “avatars”, if you will, would allow this new breed of firefighter or technician to not only save more lives, but do so without risking their own in the process.  Of course that’s only the tip of the iceberg; (hint, hint) imagine what astronauts could do with this technology in space!   Furthermore, will we see a time where planetary exploration missions are manned by humans controlling robots from right here on Earth?

The fun doesn’t end there though, if this technology becomes extremely refined you might see it applied in ways that no one ever expected.  For instance, perhaps the movers and heavy lifters of the future will rely on robotics to do the hard work instead of the strength of their own backs?  Maybe we’ll see a new class of sporting events emerge with humans controlling robotic drones in a competitive fashion?  Heck, maybe this technology will eventually be assimilated with basic automobile control; meaning, your car would respond directly to your thoughts?  It could be a “Brave New World” indeed.

If you’re an IT professional, or perhaps heavily involved or interested in the tech world, this is certainly an area that’s worth pursuing opportunities in (both now and in the future).  Quite simply, it’s fairly likely that we’ll see this industry explode in terms of its popularity over the course of the coming years; this is due to the fact that there are an almost infinite number of potential applications for the technology itself.  In order to get in on “the ground floor” of this momentous opportunity, it is highly recommended that you enhance your knowledge base of the subject matter.  Arguably, one of the best ways to accomplish this is through certification and/or training.  Likewise, those who consider themselves to be burgeoning entrepreneurs should strongly consider pursuing professional development in this field, if only to super-charge their creativity in terms of potential future business prospects.


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