Electric Wheelchair Future Technology


Brain Controlled Electric Wheelchair and Mind Computer Mouse Pointer (part 3 + The conclusion)

This is part 3 and conclusion of brain controlled assistive devices future… We have reviewed three products already on the market (or in last stages of development), and today we will check what else is out there, and what alternatives exist… At the end, we will wrap our closing thoughts on cost and whether and when pricing of these devices will fall on more acceptable levels…

OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator

The newest player in brain controller technology is PC memory maker OCZ, known especially in over clocking community. Their latest brainchild, the Actuator (based on Cyberlink’s Brainfingers) claims to bring mind controlled functionality to mass market for a price below $300. Device is identical to Brainfingers, therefore we will not review it in depth. It will suffice to say, that it tracks movement of user’s eyes, monitors brain waves and picks up facial muscle movements uses recorded signals to link to input commands on the computer, allowing user to play Tetris or even a first person shooter, or trigger external commands, i.e. piloting electric wheelchair (SDK is the same as Brainfinger’s device). Device will be on the market by November 2007

Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology  –  BrainGate

The Cyberkinetics device consists of a tiny chip containing 100 electrodes that record signals from hundreds of neurons in the motor cortex. A computer algorithm then translates this complex pattern of activity into a signal used to control a computer cursor, robotic arm, and, maybe eventually, the patient’s own limb.

Paralyzed patients dream of the day when they can once again move their limbs. That dream is making its way to becoming a reality, thanks to a neural implant created by John Donoghue and colleagues at Brown University and Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems. Work started in 2004 when Matthew Nagle, who is paralyzed due to a spinal-cord injury, became the first person to test the device, which translated his brain activity into action. Nagle’s experience with the prosthetic was exciting but very preliminary: he could move a cursor on a computer screen and make rough movements with a robotic arm.

With spinal-cord injuries and some types of stroke and neurodegenerative disease, the information-relay system between the brain and muscles is disrupted. Now Donoghue and team are pushing ahead with their quest to develop a commercially available product by testing the device. The researchers have now tested the device in two new patients, one with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, and the other with brain-stem stroke, a particularly devastating type of stroke that paralyzes the body but leaves the mind intact. The scientists presented their latest results at the Society for Neurosciences conference this week in Atlanta, GA. At the conference, Donoghue, founder of Cyberkinetics and a neuroscientist at Brown, and Leigh Hochberg, a neurologist at MGH who works with the patients studied, talked with Technology Review about the latest developments in neural prosthetics and their plans for the future.


BrainGate neuroprosthetic marvel has now been tested on two new patients, one with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, and the other with brain-stem stroke, a particularly devastating type of stroke that paralyzes the body but leaves the mind intact.

The scientists presented their results at the Society for Neurosciences conference at end of march in Atlanta, GA. At the conference, Donoghue, founder of Cyberkinetics and a neuroscientist at Brown, and Leigh Hochberg, a neurologist at MGH who works with the patients studied, spoke at length about the latest developments in neural prosthetics and their plans for the future.

They revealed that device is practically the same, but they are using a new filter (a piece of software that decodes neural signals and transmits the command to a user interface, e.g., a computer). The new filter does a much better job of stabilizing the cursor. The patients imagine moving their wrist to move the cursor and squeezing their hand to click on a target. Once you have the capacity to move a cursor in two dimensions and point and click, you can imagine a very powerful tool. Now it’s possible to get quite a good level of control. Patients can move the cursor much more cleanly, and they can point to a target and click on it, just like you would with a mouse. Patients could control any computer-based or electric device. For example, they could use the same point-and-click concept with a typing board, or with another controller for driving an electric wheelchair.

In cooperation with company called Rolltalk, which has developed a powerful interface, targeted at people who use eye-based controls (devices that convert directed eye movements into specific commands), they have completed a new brain interface control. One patient has already used it to control the movement of a wheelchair.

When they first started working with other patients, they weren’t sure how similar their responses would be to previous studies, where device performed successfully. Because ALS and neurodegenerative disease are very different issue than spinal-cord injury or brain-stem stroke, results of new testing were crucial. They found that the same types of cells were present, and patients were able to modulate them. All were able to achieve control, with some variability. Because ALS affects motor neurons and the motor cortex directly, there were some questions about whether the signals from these cells could be used [to control the implant]. However, after some work, they managed to get many signals in the motor cortex working, and the patient was able to modulate those signals. In fact, he was able to move the cursor immediately, even though he hadn’t used those cells in a while.

Besides recording much information, which will help researchers with this disease, this was also the first opportunity to track neurons in the intact nervous system. The whole other potential to this technology is ability to see neurons degenerate…

Patients help the company on daily basis, as feedback is collected after every new filter test [to decode their neural signals]. Their feedback is guiding the development, as they report whether using it feels natural, or if it doesn’t feel right. This system is very promising alternative to other existing systems, which also involve banging users head against his wheelchair.

System will soon be implantable and 100% automated

Right now, a technician has to run the system, but the goal is to make it fully automated. In addition, they want to make it fully implantable, both to decrease the chance of infection [via the hole in the skull] and to make life more normal for the patient. The system right now is sort of analogous to the first cardiac pacemaker in the 1950s. In few years timeframe company will focus on two wireless systems, both using the same electrode array, but in one case, the array will be connected to a titanium can modeled after the cochlear implant. The can, which is also implanted, contains electronics that can amplify the neural signals and transmit them outside the body. This system can be integrated with wirelessly connected computer decoder and use the Rolltalk interface to control a wheelchair, lights, or TV.

An operational prototype system is ready, and because the system is modeled after an FDA-approved cochlear device, the hope that it can moved into production and patients quickly is there. A commercially available treatment will follow completion of current pilot trials. Then they will move on to a larger, multicenter trial. If we show that more people can use the device effectively, then the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] could approve it. In terms of safety, we now have more than 1,500 days of testing, and they have seen no significant device-related adverse events.
In the second system, the improvements will follow, as electronics will gradually be mounted onto the array, which is connected to a fibre-optic cable. Both power and neural signals could be transmitted in and out via this cable. The tests of the implantable devices in monkeys will start end of 2007.

Smart Brain Games

SmartBrainGames mind powered gaming kitAlso in the market of brain controlled devices is the supposed NASA’s technology, which is currently offered only at smartbraingames.com web site for playing computer games on game consoles… This is less usefull for disability health market, but might be a binding tool for disabled parents, as it will help them interact with their children on equal grounds (expressing in games)… Pricing depends on the bundle, but the development kit (for extending usage beyond computer games is not publicly available)… Since there are no products that are directly applicable to medical/disabled market, we will not mention this in more detail. More info on www.smartbraingames.com



As we have shown in this extensive review, there are many promising solutions. Some of them are simplistic, other more extensive; some are already available, and some are in various stages of development, but all are promising. Depending on patient’s condition and disability, there might be a remedy already available, and by the year’s end it sure will be massively commercialized, which means lower and more accessible price!
We hope that smaller companies will bring existing technologies and solutions to end users, as many of existing electric wheelchairs and other power chairs have to be refitted to integrate this type of brain controlled interface. This is not something end used could do on his own (DIY), and even if some company would offer it, we are not sure if it is possible to accommodate and pre-prepare it for vast number of various wheelchairs..
The more promising devices, that are still offering high hopes for the most seriously disabled (spinal cord and paralyzed patients), will not be on the market for at least 2 years, with all the tests and pretest required by FDA and similar governments organizations worldwide. On the other side, it might be interesting to contact these companies and offer assistance with development and testing, as they are actually working in the dark. Without proper user feedback, they are limited.

This is end of PART 3 and end of series… Visit us again for new coverage of future assistive devices and electric wheelchairs…