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The Collected Writings of Lori Roets Valone
Turning thoughts into tweets: A research breakthrough

Harnessing the power of brain waves

On April 1, 2009, Adam Wilson made history.  Using only his brainwaves, he sent the following Tweet: 

April 15 he repeated the feat twice more:


Says Wired Science

That message - 'USING EEG TO SEND TWEET' - may be a modern equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell's "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." Brain-computer interfaces are no longer just a gee-whiz technology, but a platform for researchers interested in immediate real-world applications for people who can think, but can't move.

The interface was developed in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Neural Interfaces Lab which focuses on applying technology to solve real-world problems.  Built on the BCI2000 software in use in about 120 labs worldwide, the UW-M research took the tool to the next level.  Previously, the software had been used to send messages to a nearby screen.  Sending this message via the web, unlocked a world of possibilities.  Twitter, with it's 140 character message limit was the ideal forum for this type of communication.  Here where short cryptic messages are the norm, all can be equal. 

The potential for a patient  with a "locked-in" disorder such as ALS (Lou Gerig's Disease) or high spinal cord injuries who cannot type or speak is immeaurable.  These individual have not lost any cognitive function and are trapped in silence by their bodies.   While some of these individuals are able to communicate today through eye movement, the potential to communicate through brain waves alone has enormous potential to break the isolation these individuals so often face.  Imagine an ALS patients being able to communicate with family members, caregivers or even develop friendships through communications outside their limited world. 

So how does this technology work? Using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure changes in brain wave activity, the individual looks at flashing letters on a computer screen.  He concentrates on the letter he needs to form the word.  While the other letters flash, the brain does not react.  However, when the letter he needs flashes, his brain reacts and a tiny impluse is created.  The cap he is wearing picks up the change and puts the letter on the screen.  He then moves on to the next letter.  once the message is complete, he concentrates on the 'TWIT' command and once the brain impluse is picked up, the message is transmitted to the Internet. 

MSNBC demonstrates the technology in the following video:

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While commercial availability is still years away, testing will begin in 10 patients homes in the near future.