University of Maryland


Brain-Computer Interface Study Featured on Local News

January 30th, 2007

Graduate student Elizabeth Felton’s study exploring the control of a computer cursor using only brain signals was featured on a recent local news broadcast. These experiments are being conducted at the Trace Center, funded in part by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Felton is pursuing an MD-PhD under the direction of Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Justin Williams. This type of interface shows great promise for people with severe physical disabilities, and may one day allow people who cannot speak or move to more easily and efficiently use computers and other devices.

Transcript of News Video:

Caroline Lyders, WISN 12 News, Reporting: This hallway leads directly into the future. It is a research lab at UW-Madison’s Biomedical Engineering Department. Graduate student Elizabeth Felton is part of a team exploring ways people can perform simple tasks just by using their brains.

Elizabeth Felton, UW Graduate Student: This is a brain-computer interface study.

Lyders: She’s hooking up a cap fitted with electrodes to one of her research subjects. Squeezing gel into the electrodes with a syringe increases their effectiveness. The electrodes pick up brain signals, which are fed through an amplifier into a computer.

Felton: In this case, they are controlling the movement of a cursor on a computer screen using their brain signals.

Lyders: The study subjects are trained to use imagery to move the cursor left or right, up or down. They do not move their hands. You can see it works.

Curt Irwin, Research Subject: I think about squeezing just different handles. So if I want the ball to move to the right, I think about squeezing the handle with my right hand. And then the same with my left hand.

Felton: What we are looking to do is develop a technology that would allow people with severe motor disabilities to control external things with their brain signals.

Lyders: And that’s why people like Richard Kuntz are part of the study. Richard Kuntz has muscular dystrophy and is quadriplegic. Elizabeth comes to his Madison home to conduct her research.

Kuntz: I’m excited, I jumped at the chance.

Lyders: With Richard, one of the tasks is a yes/no question and answer.

Felton: [To Kuntz] Do you like to tell jokes? [Screen shows cursor ball moving toward “Yes.”] This would be really nice for someone who is unable to speak. You could ask them yes or no questions.

Lyders: The technology could also lead to banks of letters or words, enabling the speechless to communicate just by thinking about what they want to say. The possibilities are numerous.

Justin Williams, UW Engineering Professor: We started thinking of typing, word processing. And certainly controlling a wheelchair is long-term our real goal. But even simple things like turning your TV on and off or switching the channel. All the kind of things that we really take for granted. You could look around your house any day and start to find applications everywhere.

Lyders: For Richard, technology that could lead to greater independence.

Kuntz: It’s definitely cool.

Lyders: The UW researchers anticipate having the system available for people with severe disabilities in about 5 years. But they won’t stop there. They hope some day to make this technology small enough that it could be safely implanted on the surface of the brain. It would recognize the brain’s intent and make the task happen.