Wilson, who used the interface to post the Twitter update, likens it to texting on a cell phone. "You have to press a button four times to get the character you want," he says of texting. "So this is kind of a slow process at first."
However, as with texting, users improve as they practice using the interface. "I've seen people do up to eight characters per minute," says Wilson.
A free service, Twitter has been called a "micro-blogging" tool. User updates, called tweets, have a 140-character limit a manageable message length that fits locked-in users' capabilities, says Williams.
Tweets are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other Twitter users who have signed up to receive them. "So someone could simply tell family and friends how they're feeling today," says Williams. "People at the other end can be following their thread and never know that the person is disabled. That would really be an enabling type of communication means for those people, and I think it would make them feel, in the online world, that they're not that much different from everybody else. That's why we did these things."
Schalk agrees. "This is one of the first and perhaps most useful integrations of brain-computer interface techniques with Internet technologies to date," he says.
While widespread implementation of brain-computer interface technologies is still years down the road, Wadsworth Center researchers, as well as those at the University of Tbingen in Germany, are starting in-home trials of the equipment. Wilson, who will finish his Ph.D. soon and begin postdoctoral research at Wadsworth, plans to include Twitter in the trials.
Williams hopes the Twitter application is the nudge researchers need to refine development of the in-home technology. "A lot of the things that we've been doing are more scientific exercises,
|Contact: Justin Williams|
University of Wisconsin-Madison