Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s ability to communicate has been deteriorating over the past several years as Lou Gherig’s disease progressively limits his control over his own body, but a new device not bigger than a matchbox may allow him to communicate simply by thinking.
Currently, Hawking is only able to communicate using special glasses attached to a device that are able to detect slight twitches in his cheek, which he uses to navigate a display to construct sentences. The process is slow–it can take several minutes for Hawking to deliver a response–but this new piece of technology could make the process much faster.
The device, called the iBrain, is being developed by a team led by 32-year-old neuroscientist Philip Low, CEO of San Diego-based NeuroVigil. The device is a portable brain scanner whose original purpose was to monitor sleep apnea, schizophrenia and depression, but in Hawking’s case, the team is testing whether or not the device could help formulate words by reading Hawking’s brain waves–no other input would be required.
“The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person’s own bed, or when they’re watching TV, or doing just about anything,” Low said in an interview with the New York Times. “The idea is to see if Stephen can use his mind to create a consistent and repeatable pattern that a computer can translate into, say, a word or letter or a command for a computer.”
In a separate statement, Hawking explained his involvement in Low’s project, and what he hopes the technology can accomplish.
“Dr. Low and his company have done some outstanding work in this field,” Dr. Hawking said in a statement. I am participating in this project in the hope that I can offer insights and practical advice to NeuroVigil. I wish to assist in research, encourage investment in this area, and, most importantly, to offer some future hope to people diagnosed with A.L.S. and other neurodegenerative conditions.”
Source: NY Times