Hawking communicates with his mind

Already surrounded by machines that allow him, painstakingly, to communicate, the physicist Stephen Hawking last year donned what looked like a rakish black headband that held a feather-light device the size of a small matchbox.

Called the iBrain, this simple-looking contraption is part of an experiment that aims to allow Professor Hawking - long paralysed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease - to communicate by merely thinking.

The iBrain is part of a new generation of portable neural devices and algorithms intended to monitor and diagnose conditions such as sleep apnoea, depression and autism. Invented by a team led by Philip Low, a 32-year-old neuroscientist, the iBrain is gaining attention as a possible alternative to expensive sleep labs that use rubber and plastic caps riddled with dozens of electrodes and usually require a patient to stay overnight.
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''The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person's own bed, or when they're watching TV, or doing just about anything,'' Dr Low, chief executive of the San Diego company NeuroVigil, said.

The device uses a single channel to pick up waves of electrical brain signals, which change with different activities and thoughts, or with the pathologies that accompany brain disorders.


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