Thinking it so

Scientific American reports that tiny electrodes, each thinner than a human hair, permit paraplegic Matthew Nagle to convert his thoughts into action. The electrodes are part of a sensor that works with Nagle's motor cortex to accomplish some physical tasks.

The hardware assessed the firing of the neurons--sometimes as much as 200 times a second--and converted it into action. After personalizing the array by having Nagle track a cursor moved by a technician, the computers generated a neural cursor that he then used over the course of 57 subsequent sessions to open e-mail, draw circles and play a version of Pong. It also enabled him to open and close the fingers of a prosthetic hand as well as use a robotic arm to pick up pieces of hard candy and drop them into a technician's hand. He could even control his television, all while conversing with those around him.

The current equipment has malfunctioned and in time it will have to be less bulky, but it's a start. Next step: speedier results by anticipating some thoughts.