The iBrain: Hacking into the Mind of a Person with ALS

by Christina Medvescek on Wed, 2013-07-10 05:00

Christina Medvescek

“The biggest fear for someone with ALS is not being able to communicate! That is called being locked in. With the iBrain, I will never, ever be locked in.”

Thus wrote Augie Nieto, fitness entrepreneur, founder of the MDA ALS fundraising campaign Augie’s Quest, and a person who has had ALS since 2005. Augie currently communicates via a trackball he controls with his feet, but that ability is slowly fading.

Enter Philip Low — 33-year-old neuroscientist, founder of NeuroVigil and creator of the iBrain, a device touted for “in-home sleep monitoring and diagnosis.” Low recently met with Augie to test out the ability of the “brain reader” to open up a new communication channel for people with advanced ALS.

Augie and his iBrain trial were the focus of a recent segment on "Through the Wormhole," a Discovery Channel show hosted by Morgan Freeman. In the show, Augie was fitted with a headband containing a lightweight portable brain monitor that picked up on his “mental intention to move.”  

The iBrain was able to discern when Augie was mentally moving his right or left hand. Low says these electrical brain patterns can be used to control a virtual hand on a computer screen that can select words and letters. (NeuroVigil did similar tests last year with Stephen Hawking.)

Click below to watch the entire "Through the Wormhole" segment with Augie Nieto — and then take a moment to share your thoughts in the comment section. The future is here!

About the Author

Christina Medvescek, vice president of publications for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, is a longtime journalist, mediator, wife, mother, caregiver to an adult child with cerebral palsy, and frequently amazed observer of the ways of life. Managing editor of MDA's Quest magazine and the MDA/ALS Newsmagazine, she works at MDA's national headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. Send comments and suggestions — about blogs or any aspect of MDA's publications — to cmedvescek@mdausa.org.

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