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Brain Implant Gives Voice to the Paralyzed

No one has conversed with Eric Ramsey since 1999, when a car crash paralyzed him, leaving his conscious mind trapped inside an unresponsive body. The rare condition is called locked-in syndrome, and it has left Ramsey unable to even blink. But now, scientists and engineers are helping him reconnect with the outside world.

Five years after the incident, scientists implanted a device in his brain linking it directly to a speech synthesizer.  After years of practice, Ramsey can now generate vowel sounds just by thinking of them.

Here’s a video of the brain-computer interface prompting Ramsey, who then mimics the vowel sounds:

YouTube Preview Image

Instead of focusing on minute movement, which would allow Ramsey to communicate by typing words, the implanted device hones in on areas of the brain related to speech.  Forming words a syllable at a time works much faster than typing.

Though Ramsey can’t yet sustain a conversation, scientists believe they may reach that level of sophistication within the next five years.

Other efforts are being explored as well to address the communication needs of people with locked-in syndrome or spinal cord injury include a simple brain-computer interface. Researchers using it recently succeeded in posting a message on Twitter.

With a 140 character maximum, a Twitter message is well within the reach of many locked-in users. At last, they may be able to communicate with their family and friends and share their experiences with the rest of the world.

More info and a great video about Ramsey can be found on this page.

More neural engineering


Guenther FH, Brumberg JS, Wright EJ, Nieto-Castanon A, Tourville JA, et al. (2009) A Wireless Brain-Machine Interface for Real-Time Speech Synthesis. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8218. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008218

One Response to “Brain Implant Gives Voice to the Paralyzed”

  1. […] manipulate our neural circuitry, with applications ranging from controlling prosthetic limbs and giving voice to the paralyzed to treating depression and traumatic brain injuries. Here’s an exciting recent development […]

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