Researcher Updates His Twitter Feed Using Only Brainwaves

By Eliza Strickland | April 21, 2009 1:32 pm

brain TwitterWhen Adam Wilson wants to update his Twitter feed, he doesn’t have to tap out a single keystroke–brainwaves are all he needs. On April 1st, he used a brain-to-Twitter communication system to transmit this message: “USING EEG TO SEND TWEET.” That message may be a modern equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Brain-computer interfaces are no longer just a gee-whiz technology, but a platform for researchers interested in immediate real-world applications for people who can think, but can’t move [Wired].

The system uses electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the electrical activity in the user’s brain. Explains University of Wisconsin professor Justin Williams: “All the letters come up, and each one of them flashes individually…. And what your brain does is, if you’re looking at the ‘R’ on the screen and all the other letters are flashing, nothing happens. But when the ‘R’ flashes, your brain says, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Something’s different about what I was just paying attention to.’ And you see a momentary change in brain activity” [MSNBC]. After the message has been painstakingly assembled, letter by letter, the user sends it by focusing on the “Twit” box on the screen. When that flashes and the EEG reader picks up the brain signal, the message is sent to Twitter.

Twitter, the revolutionary “micro-blogging” service that allows users to broadcast messages under 140 characters in length, might be the best communication technology for people suffering from locked in syndrome, in which the body is almost completely paralyzed but the mind is intact. Williams and Wilson had been experimenting with using their machine-brain interface to allow paralyzed patients to type out and send emails, but they found that process too complicated. Williams says that the patients top request is to “send simple messages to the people who are thinking of them.” The message might be as simple as saying that they’re doing OK today, or that they need someone to come by. That makes Twitter “the perfect application” for the system, Williams said. Patients can send a simple message to everyone who wants to know how they’re doing [MSNBC].

Ten patients will soon test out the technology in their own homes. That system is not yet commercially available, but that day could come soon. “It’s at the point where it’s beyond proof of concept,” Wilson said. “We know it works. The next question is how to integrate it into people’s homes, so that a caretaker could set it up without need for outside help” [Wired].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Twitters Greatest Hits–and Greatest Misses
80beats: Honda’s Mind-Controlled Robot Could Be Your Avatar in the Real World
80beats: Monkeys Use a Electronic Brain Interface to Move Paralyzed Limbs
80beats: Mind-Controlled Video Game Gets a Tryout in Japan

Image: University of Wisconsin, Madison College of Engineering

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • Nick

    I went to twitter this, but a tweep of mine beat me to it. Bonus points: he was using dictation to tweet because he broke his wrist in like 8 places.

  • Damian


    Is it necessary to have a brain to use this system? That’s hardly fair to the majority of Twitter users.

  • Jo

    It’s so encouraging, every time I hear of research like this. I can’t think of a more important means of vastly improving the lives of those suffering from such a horrible condition. A fast and effective means of communication — whether it be with other high-tech aids or other people. It’s very exciting research.

  • Brauf

    I’d like to see Hawking get hooked up with one of these.

  • Nova Terata

    Amazin a device dat reqires u 2 tink bout wat ur typin B4 u hit send OMG T-PAIN on TV gotta go!

  • Jill in Texas

    What would Dick Tracy think of all this? am i the only codger out there who remembers when a cartoon about talking into a wrist watch was pure science fiction. We’ve come a long way baby. Can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings. I still don’t get twitter but this use of it is great.

  • Rob

    This is amazing, I’ve been into brainwave entrainment for a few years (that is how I found your blog) I wonder how long it will be before a product like this is available to buy. Imagine not having to use a keyboard anymore, hardware could be made much smaller. This kind of technology could be used with mobile phones, wow the possibilities blow me away!


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