Thought Controlled Wheelchairs May Provide Hope for Disability Patients

Psychic powers may not be real, but a team at Duke University has developed technology that would seem to manufacture the abilities in those who suffer from paralyzation.

Through their experiments, they’ve shown that monkeys now have the ability to control the motion of a special wheelchair using nothing but their thoughts. Based on a study that suggests 70 percent of disabled patients would accept surgical implants for the opportunity to walk again, the team of scientists have been working on wireless implants that could provide such opportunities.

During research, the team implanted microfilaments directly into the brains of two rhesus macaque monkeys. Researchers measured the activity of nearly 300 neurons in each of the subjects. During measurement, the monkeys were placed in specially developed wheelchairs at numerous points throughout a room. Using nothing but their thoughts, both monkeys then used the wheelchairs to navigate across the room for food.

These wireless implants would be a remarkable change from current, similar technology that requires wires. Most rely on EEG and a wired model along with some physical capability in the user. Unfortunately, some physical capability is impossible in many patients--like those who suffer from quadriplegia or ALS--making this new wireless option a valid one for more patients in need.

This isn’t the first time that such mental technology has been worked on either, and it may be relatively ‘simpler’ to create than you might think. A Brooklyn-based company called OpenBCI has developed a headset that can be created via 3D-printing. For only $450 you can get your hands on such a device that records brain waves and converts them into signals that can control everything from a robot arm to a remote-controlled helicopter.

Such companies provide hope that this kind of technology may be closer at hand than many realize and at a price point that isn’t as far out of reach as one may expect. Based on a 2009 study by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, it’s estimated that 5.6 million Americans are paralyzed, representing nearly 2 percent of the population. This new technology could help provide new opportunities to many of them.

If these new ways of thinking could provide hope to the most cherished of your assets, those you love, then it will have done considerable good for the long term health of society.