“To give a voice to those who have lost it ” is the ambition of the EDICO association, which experiments with various brain-computer interfaces. To do this, his engineers were inspired by Stephen Hawking’s ACAT software, which allowed the astrophysicist suffering from Charcot’s disease to express himself thanks to the muscular contraction of one of his cheeks. Thus, Damien Perrier, founder of the association and suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and his colleagues wish to improve the daily lives of tetraplegic people, aphids or bedridden.
A diagnosis that paralyzes
ALS, Charcot disease or Lou Gehrig … Several names but one and the same: this neurodegenerative disease causes muscle weakness and paralysis. It reaches the motor neurons, responsible for sending the information and the orders of the desired movements, from the brain to the muscles. Nerve cells degenerate and eventually die. Without stimulation, the muscles become inactive and atrophy little by little until they cause paralysis. Stephen Hawking died on March 14, 2018 from complications related to this disease but he left a remarkable legacy to his peers.
And Intel created … ACAT
The one who was nicknamed ” the other Einstein ” had a camera attached to the glasses that captured the movements of his face. He could then select a letter on the keypad that appeared on the screen of his computer, attached to his wheelchair. A predictive system offered him two types of words: those used most frequently or those associated with the preceding terms. The American company Intel is at the origin of this technological jewel. She first designed the ACAT software for the astrophysicist, before making it public. It is therefore freely downloadable and open source, a method that allows anyone to use it. Putting it within the reach of all, Intel hoped that developers would improve the system, creating for example new interfaces.
A new technological momentum
The EDICO association has taken up the torch and proposes a new approach. The guinea-pig , as he defines himself, is none other than Damien Perrier. This engineer in physics is tetraplegic and voiceless, only his eyes move, and it is thanks to them that he expresses himself. On his computer, a camera detects his eye movements, allowing him to ” click ” on letters and even words. But Damien has other ambitions … His dearest wish: to write by thought. So every week he tests a new device. Equipped with a headset with fourteen electrodes that records the activity of his brain, he thinks of a letter and, after a great effort of concentration, sees it appear on his screen. To communicate with the ACAT software, the device is a little different. Damien and his friends use an electroencephalograph (EEG) band with two electrodes connected to an electronic card that measures their cerebral signal. ” Our homemade EEG headband ” detects the brain signal and sends it to the computer where it is analyzed and transformed to trigger the interruption in the ACAT software. When I raise my eyebrow, the cerebral signal is transformed, which allows me to write, “says Damien Perrier.
An award-winning project
Four years of research were needed to develop this software. Only downside: with a letter written every 16 seconds, it is too tiring to be used permanently. But Damien does not intend to stop there … ” My engineering friends, Samuel Bernardet, Christian Martel and myself, are not quibble , he says. Our thought-writing project with EEG headphones has received numerous awards including the Pierre Dumas 2018 Prize from the Institut de France and the Legion of Honor Society of the same year. “