Chinese University scientists have developed computer software to allow severely paralyzed patients to communicate through the use of brainwaves.
The system uses a brain-computer interface and allows users to "type" in Chinese characters by thinking about the strokes.
Research associate James Minett, who leads the team, said the technology targets severely paralyzed patients who can no longer communicate through speaking and writing. These include people with neuromuscular disease, stroke victims and those suffering from locked-in syndrome, in which they are nearly completely paralyzed but are fully conscious. To run the system, patients have to wear a headset containing 16 electrodes.
Researcher Fong Cheuk-man said the system uses a character input solution similar to the one in mobile phones, which creates characters by typing in order of strokes.
To begin communicating, the user chooses one of five different strokes presented on the computer screen. The user then chooses the next stroke, and so on. The system can detect which Chinese character the user wants within a short number of selected strokes.
For instance, "Hello" and "Good afternoon" are simple and short sentences in Chinese characters, but it can take three to five minutes for the system to complete the translation.
"People have different moods, different mental states, different levels of tiredness, and might use the system in different environments so, of course, performance would be affected by that," Minett said.
"If the system we have developed can allow someone to communicate - even if only a single Chinese character each minute - I believe their quality of life can be improved, and our time has been put to good use."
Government chief information officer Daniel Lai Shek-cheung said: "There has been some development in the production of such words in English. But this is the first one to use brainwaves to translate into traditional Chinese characters."
The cost of the electroencephalograph headset is HK$6,000, relatively low compared with average medical systems that range from HK$200,000 to HK$500,000. The system interface and user manual will be released for free download within a month.
The project was among nine sponsored by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer's Development of Assistive Technology for Persons with Disabilities Fund.
There is no official number of severely paralyzed patients in Hong Kong, but according to Hong Kong Neuro-Muscular Disease Association, there are over 10,000 with neuro- muscular diseases.
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