Device Taps Thoughts of Disabled

Headband with electrodes helps develop communication skills

By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press, Vancouver BC Canada

Published in the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator, Sept. 27, 2001

A mind-reading device being developed by a University of Victoria biologist and a team of 40 volunteers could allow severely disabled people to communicate more effectively.

"We have a sense deep down that this is going to work whereas six months ago it was a hope" said Nigel Livingston.

The device called a Cyberlink is being developed to pick up brain signals from disabled people who can't speak and must instead use tedious means to communicate with others.

The Cyberlink will look like a headband. People wearing it will have electrodes placed on their head to pick up brain signals.

Livingston said test subjects have already shown that people can control their brain signals depending on what they're thinking about.

To communicate a message, disabled jpeople would generate varying brain frequencies for a certain letter of the alphabet to form words, much like Morse code.

Signals would be sent into a computer attached to the Cyberlink. the researchers hope that eventually a voice synthesizer will be used to translate the information into elecctronic speech.

The science-fiction-like work has been dubbed the Claire Project after Claire Inkley, an exceptionally bright Grade 12 student who has a genetic condition similar to cerebral palsy.

Claire, 17, currently communicates using her eyes--looking to the right or left--and pointing to groups of letters on a letter board.

The process requires help from her parents or an aide and is extremely tiring because it yields only about 20 words an hour, said John Minkley, Claire's father.

Communication is slowed down further because involuntary muscle spasms interfere with Claire's attempts to get her message across, he said.

Despite requiring a wheelchair and being unable to speak or write because she has poor muscle control, Claire is a straight-A student who wants to study physics and math in university.