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Brain-computer technology lets kids with disabilities move and play

Eight-year-old Giselle Alnaser wants the Elmo stuffed toy sitting on a stool across the room, and sheSA国际影视传媒檚 going to use her brain waves to get it.

As her mother encourages her with calls of, SA国际影视传媒淟etSA国际影视传媒檚 go, letSA国际影视传媒檚 go, letSA国际影视传媒檚 go!SA国际影视传媒 Giselle concentrates asthe platform beneath her wheelchair appears to roll by itself toward Elmo. She smiles when she reaches the stool and an occupational therapist hands her the toy.

Giselle was diagnosed with a CAMK2b gene mutation when she was a toddler. It affects her brainSA国际影视传媒檚 ability to communicate with her muscles SA国际影视传媒 meaning she canSA国际影视传媒檛 walk or move her arms much SA国际影视传媒 and sheSA国际影视传媒檚 not able to speak.

The Brain Computer Interface program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto develops technology that allows Giselle and dozens of other physically disabled children to use their minds to move and play.

SA国际影视传媒(These are) children who are not able to move themselves in space, (who) donSA国际影视传媒檛 have reliable movement and donSA国际影视传媒檛 have verbal communication or have difficulty with verbal communication. So really their only way of interacting with the environment is through their thoughts,SA国际影视传媒 said Susannah Van Damme, an occupational therapist and team lead for the hospitalSA国际影视传媒檚 clinical BCI program.

The brain computer interface works like an on-off switch triggered by electrical patterns in the brain. While wearing a headset with EEG electrodes, the child is asked to think about something specific that will serve as a SA国际影视传媒渃ommandSA国际影视传媒 thought. The child is then asked to relax and put their mind in a quiet, passive state, which serves as the SA国际影视传媒渟topSA国际影视传媒 thought.

The electrodes transmit those electrical signals to a computer, where they are saved. The computer is trained through artificial intelligence to recognize those specific brain patterns when it sees them again and start or stop whatever device itSA国际影视传媒檚 connected to SA国际影视传媒 such as GiselleSA国际影视传媒檚 rolling wheelchair platform.

SA国际影视传媒淎s long as an individual can generate activity in the brain you can kind of flick the switch and control the activity,SA国际影视传媒 said Tom Chau, senior scientist and head of Holland BloorviewSA国际影视传媒檚 Paediatric Rehabilitation Intelligent Systems Multidisciplinary lab.

Giselle generates a SA国际影视传媒渃ommandSA国际影视传媒 thought bythinking about moving fast in her wheelchair, or focusing on the phrase SA国际影视传媒済o, go, go.SA国际影视传媒

But any thought will do. The key is for the child to concentrate on it while the computer records the electrical brain pattern it creates.

Then when the child wants to make something happen, they think the same thought again, generating the same brain pattern that the computer now recognizes.

SA国际影视传媒(When a child) sends that SA国际影视传媒済oSA国际影视传媒 signal, the computer interprets that just as a command to start, to activate whatever it is that itSA国际影视传媒檚 attached to,SA国际影视传媒 Van Damme said.

For another activity, the team attaches the computer to a bubble maker. The same command thoughts that allow Giselle to move her wheelchair now allow her to make bubbles appear.

In agame of SA国际影视传媒渇reeze,SA国际影视传媒 the computer is programmed to play music when she thinks her command thought. As the Barney dance song plays, Giselle turns the music on and off as her mom and hospital staff dance around her. When she stops the music to make them freeze in position, Giselle smiles with delight.

SA国际影视传媒淪omeone who has not been able to turn on their favourite music or play a video game because of a physical disability, they can use their brain power to do that,SA国际影视传媒 Van Damme said.

GiselleSA国际影视传媒檚 parents, Samah Darwish and Naser Alnaser, said watching their daughter use BCI technology has been SA国际影视传媒渁mazing.SA国际影视传媒

SA国际影视传媒淟ike any parent, you want some independence for the kids to do their own things SA国际影视传媒 to move, to play, to learn and everything,SA国际影视传媒 said Alnaser.

SA国际影视传媒淭o be herself. To be a kid.SA国际影视传媒

Although BCI research has occurredin various parts of the world for decades, a Canadian network comprised of Holland Bloorview, Alberta ChildrenSA国际影视传媒檚 Hospital in Calgary and Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton has taken the lead in recent years in bringing the technology to children and youth with disabilities.

SA国际影视传媒淥ne thing that we noticed as a group of clinicians who see children and their families was that although those BCI technologies are rapidly advancing, the pediatric population were really neglected,SA国际影视传媒 said Dr. John Andersen, a University of Alberta associate professor of pediatrics who leads the BCI program at Glenrose.

SA国际影视传媒淲e wanted to see how we can make this accessible to children and learn from them and their families to kind of co-develop how this emerging technology can be accessible in its current form and how we can develop the technology and expertise around it in the future,SA国际影视传媒 said Andersen, noting that Chau at Holland Bloorview has been the trailblazer for the group.

Although the on-off switch activities help children and youth with neuromotor disabilities gain more control in their lives, the researchers say developing BCI technology to help non-verbal children communicate is the next major step SA国际影视传媒 and a priority requested by their parents.

SA国际影视传媒淲eSA国际影视传媒檝e been doing research in communication for, you know, two decades now. But weSA国际影视传媒檙e finally getting it to the point where youSA国际影视传媒檙e going to be able to translate it,SA国际影视传媒 said Chau.

The hope is that in the near future, children will be able to use BCI to convey wants and needs using their minds, he said.

SA国际影视传媒(That would) really unlock huge potential for kids whoSA国际影视传媒檝e been basically trapped in their own bodies,SA国际影视传媒 Chau said.

SA国际影视传媒淭hey have so much that they want to express. And thereSA国际影视传媒檚 just never been the means.SA国际影视传媒



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