July 8, 2012
iBrain Could Soon Help Stephen Hawking Communicate
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
An American scientist currently developing a device that would allow Professor Stephen Hawking to "write" words with his brain waves is scheduled to present his latest findings at a consciousness conference in the UK city of Cambridge, BBC News and Asian News International reported on Saturday.
As previously reported by our own Lee Rannals, the device in question is known as the iBrain and is essentially a brain scanner which measures electrical activity. It is the work of Stanford University professor Philip Low, who told the BBC that he is hoping it will ultimately become an alternative to Hawking's current speech system, which interprets the scientist's cheek muscle movements.
By bypassing Hawking's body completely, Low is hoping that the iBrain will help alleviate the condition known as "locked-in syndrome," which occurs when a patient is awake and aware but unable to move or communicate due to paralysis in nearly all of the body's voluntary muscles. The device "could help safeguard the physicist's ability to communicate," the British news organization said.
According to BBC News, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963, and his worsening condition forced him to begin using a system that relies on an infrared sensor attached to his glasses to detect movements in his right cheek. However, they pointed out that Hawking's facial nerves are continuing to deteriorate, slowing his rate of speech and prompting the legendary scientist to search for a replacement method -- one that will prevent the possibility that he could ultimately lose the ability to communicate completely.
Professor Low was allowed to scan Hawking's brain using the iBrain device, which was developed at a San Diego, California-based start-up known as Neurovigil. Low had hoped to demonstrate the technology on Hawking during the conference, but a spokesman told the BBC that the professor would not be able to attend, even though he continues to support "research into new technologies to help him communicate."
Back in June, Low released a statement saying that the iBrain team would "like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain." He also called the research "very exciting" because it allowed the researchers to essentially open up "a window into the brain," and added that the work could ultimately help doctors prescribe medication based on an individual's brainwave responses, as well as treat other ailments, including sleep disorders, depression and even autism.
Intel is also prepping their own device to assist Hawking, according to BBC News and redOrbit reports. In January, the company announced that they were working, at Hawking's request, on new 3D facial gesture recognition software that would speed up the rate at which he could write.
"These gestures will control a new user interface that takes advantage of the multi-gesture vocabulary and advances in word prediction technologies," a spokeswoman told the UK press organization. "We are working closely with Professor Hawking to understand his needs and design the system accordingly."