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Still other researchers are working on less-invasive BCIs. Jonathan Wolpaw is the head of the Wadsworth Brain-Computer Interface project at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health in Albany, N.Y.

Their version of a BCI includes a laptop computer, a portable amplifier, and a breathable cap fitted with eight electrodes. The cap records electrical activity through the scalp, similar to an EEG, and translates it into commands. A caregiver must attach the electrodes to the patient every time the cap is worn.

One patient has used the system for over a year, along with the computer's software to compose e-mails and letters. It works this way: A screen shows a matrix of letters and numbers. The subject concentrates on the character he wants while the lines and columns flash. When he gets the correct one the process begins again. He is able to type at about two to four words per minute.

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