Controlling Objects With Your Thoughts: No Longer Sci-Fi

Dennis Faas's picture

Matt Nagle is 25 years old. His recent activities include playing video games, checking e-mail, and using a TV remote.

Being able to successfully complete of those tasks might've seemed like an impossible dream for the young man just a few years ago.

But that's because he's paralyzed.

The injury that changed Matt's life forever happened in 2001. A knife wound severed his spinal cord, leaving him unable to move any of his limbs and most of his torso. Luckily, he managed to retain a bit of control over his head, neck, and shoulders. Matt's life may soon change forever once again -- this time by the development of a new technology called the BrainGate system. Its advances give startling new hope to paraplegics everywhere.

How does BrainGate work?

In something that sounds like it came straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel, a sensor was implanted into the part of Nagle's brain that controls his arms.

After weeks of recovery, Matt was ready to start his training. It began simply. As a computer technician moved a cursor around on a computer screen, Matt was asked to imagine that he was doing it himself. The data recorded from that session was programmed to associate the cursor movements with the brain activity from Nagle's implant.

BrainGate In Action

Eventually, Matt was asked to move the cursor by himself -- with no help from anyone -- using only his mind. It worked! (Source:

Since then, Matt Nagle has successfully completed the following series of tasks -- by simply thinking about them:

  • Centering a cursor (See Video)
  • Using simulated e-mail and paint programs (See Video)
  • Controlling a TV remote via a computer interface. (See Video)
  • Playing the classic video game Pong (See Video)
  • Successfully completing a more complicated "He-Man" game that involves moving the cursor to grab treasure chests while avoiding obstacles (See Video)
  • Opening and closing a prosthetic hand (See Video)
  • Operating a robotic arm (See Video) (Source:

BrainGate technology is obviously still in its early stages, but it represents an exciting breakthrough for paraplegics -- and perhaps eventually for the rest of humankind as well.

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