The award-winning French movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly brought to life the memoirs of Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby - the victim of a major stroke at the young age of 42, resulting in him suffering “locked in syndrome”, where the brain is active but the body is not. Bauby can only communicate by blinking one eye and, with the help of a patient speech therapist, writes his memoirs. For other stroke victims or sufferers of brain injuries who have lost the ability to speak and write, communicating with the outside world can be frustrating. Guger Technologies, makers of intendiX, has created a home-based system where wearers of a special EEG cap can communicate via a computer with the special software installed.

The intendiX system utilizes Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology, in this instance visually-evoked EEG potentials (VEP/P300). The user is able to sequentially select characters from a keyboard-like matrix on the screen just by concentrating on the target for several seconds. For some patients, this is more difficult than it seems, but with some training most subjects can use intendiX after only 10 minutes with reasonable performance. Achieving a spelling rate of five to ten characters per minute can be achieved by the majority of healthy users at their first trial.

The system uses an algorithm to detect the idling state so that it only selects characters when the user pays attention to the target. The system has many potential benefits, apart from writing text for patients. Users can also use the system to trigger an alarm, have the computer speak the written text, send the text via email, print it out or activate external devices.

The creators say the special EEG cap is comfortable to wear and easy to clean and the active electrodes do not require any special skin preparation, just a drop of gel on each of the electrodes and the patient can begin to spell.

The intendiX system is commercially-available and includes all the hardware and software required. The makers say performance levels will vary, depending on the severity of the disability the patient suffers, but for many users, this equipment can add significantly to their quality of life.

The system costs around US$12,500 and more video demonstrations are here.

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