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Brain computer interface with the P300 speller: usability for disabled people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Brain computer interface with the P300 speller: usability for disabled people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Violaine Guy, Marie-Hélène Soriani, Mariane Bruno, Théodore Papadopoulo, Claude desnuelle, Maureen Clerc
Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease, restricts patients’ communication capacity a few years after onset. A proof-of-concept of brain–computer interface (BCI) has shown promise in ALS and “locked-in” patients, mostly in pre-clinical studies or with only a few patients, but performance was estimated not high enough to support adoption by people with physical limitation of speech. Here, we evaluated a visual BCI device in a clinical study to determine whether disabled people with multiple deficiencies related to ALS would be able to use BCI to communicate in a daily environment.


After clinical evaluation of physical, cognitive and language capacities, 20 patients with ALS were included. The P300-speller BCI system consisted of electroencephalography acquisition connected to real-time processing software and separate keyboard-display control software. It was equipped with original features such as optimal stopping of flashes and word prediction. The study consisted of two 3-block sessions (copy spelling, free spelling and free use) with the system in several modes of operation to evaluate its usability in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction.


The system was effective in that all participants successfully achieved all spelling tasks and was efficient in that 65% of participants selected more than 95% of the correct symbols. The mean number of correct symbols selected per minute ranged from 3.6 (without word prediction) to 5.04 (with word prediction). Participants expressed satisfaction: the mean score was 8.7 on a 10-point visual analog scale assessing comfort, ease of use and utility. Patients quickly learned how to operate the system, which did not require much learning effort.


With its word prediction and optimal stopping of flashes, which improves information transfer rate, the BCI system may be competitive with alternative communication systems such as eye trackers. Remaining requirements to improve the device for suitable ergonomic use are in progress.


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