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New technology allows people with motor impairments to control devices with their minds


Alberta researchers have unveiled a new piece of technology that will help improve the lives of people with motor impairment.

Think2Switch is a headset that reads brain signals and sends them to switch-enabled home devices, which are controlled by computers, allowing people with motor impairments to use toys or technology without moving a muscle.

“This is a brain control interface, we call it BCI for short. We use non-invasive BCI so you just need to have sensors on the surface of the scalp and those detect the brain signals,” said Dr. Kim Adams, director of the Assistive Technology Lab at the University of Alberta.

“This is beautiful in its simplicity because there’s a lot of assisted technology out there that just receives a signal switch output and because of that, we can use all those devices. Families often have a lot of switch adapted toys at home.”

A team of researchers have been testing the device with children as part of the BCI for Kids program.

While the device is being tested with children, researchers said it can be used by a person of any age.

Six-year-old Claire Sonnenberg is in a wheelchair. She has been using the Think2Switch for about a year and a half.

Her family got involved with the program when they were looking for a way for Claire to communicate.

Claire has Cerebral Palsy, and her mom Stephanie says the device has totally changed how she interacts with other children.

“It’s brought a new aspect of play. Claire is a huge part of play in our family, she has her own role, but now it’s an active role, an active independent role, and that’s what makes a difference," said Stephanie.

“Before it was me helping her paint, or me helping push something on, and now it’s her thinking what she wants to happen and it actually going.”

According to researchers at the U of A, over 3.5 million Canadians rely solely on assistive technology. For at least 20,000 of them, existing technology is unsuitable.

They’re hoping the Think2Switch will help fill the gap.

“The biggest thing I can say to anyone is not to underestimate these kids,” Stephanie said. “She hears everything, she understands everything, and when we give them a way that they can show what they know, and what they can do, it’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Alison MacKinnon. Top Stories

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