The brain-computer interface aims to create a system that can translate brain activity into words.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) for Neuroprosthesis
Facebook funded a project to develop brain-computer interface (BCI). However, the social media giant is abandoning it, even though it could help with speech impairment.
The researchers of the said project showed the device helping a person with severe speech loss communicate who had nothing more than thought.
The project showcased how a neuroprosthesis could be utilized in restoring speech in a person who lost the ability to speak over 16 years ago after a stroke.
The interface could pick up the speaker’s intention to speak and transcribe it into words.
Edward Chang, who is the lead author of the study and the chair of Neurosurgery at the University of California San Francisco, said that it’s the first successful presentation of decoding of full words directly from the brain activity of a paralyzed person.
The study showed that communication could be restored by simply tapping into the brain’s natural speech region.
The researchers have been working on it for more than 10 years. They learned a lot about how the brain processes speech.
With the advances in machine learning, the researchers allowed them to obtain impressive results. Their progress accelerated, thanks to Facebook’s funding and its machine learning devices.
Focusing on Wrist-Mounted EMG Bands
Despite the potential of the project, Facebook said that it is backing off the idea of developing a commercial brain-reading device.
Instead, it is building a wrist-worn interface.
The wristband uses EMG to translate subtle neural signals into certain actions, like swiping, typing, etc. The band also offers haptic feedback to create a more responsive system than basic hand tracking options.
The new research can’t be applied to a mass-market tech product. That’s why Facebook is refocusing its priorities. Instead of a head-mounted BCI, it would create a wrist-worn interface.
But why the wrist? It’s a traditional place where you place your watch. It could fit into your everyday life.
In a press release, Facebook stated:
“To continue fostering optical BCI explorations across the field, we want to take this opportunity to open source our BCI software and share our head-mounted hardware prototypes to key researchers and other peers to help advance this important work. In the meantime, Facebook Reality Labs will focus on applying BCI concepts to our electromyography (EMG) research to dramatically accelerate wrist-based neural interfaces for intuitive AR/VR input.”
The new research is valuable for patients who can’t use keyboards and other existing interfaces to help them communicate easily. However, the study falls short of Facebook’s goal, which is a non-invasive BCI system that lets people type 100 words per minute.
Facebook is still unlocking the ability of wrist-based electromyography (EMG). Although it’s abandoning its project to develop a head-mounted BCI for now, it’s not completely giving up on it. Thus, the company’s efforts were not completely wasted.
As mentioned, it is planning to make the system open-source. It is sharing the prototypes with researchers as it winds down its own research.