Paralysed man takes a walk in virtual world

TOKYO (AFP) — A paralysed man using only his brain waves has been able to manipulate a virtual Internet character, Japanese researchers said Monday, calling it a world first.

The 41-year-old patient used his imagination to make his character take a walk and chat to another virtual person on the popular Second Life website.

The patient, who has suffered paralysis for more than 30 years, can barely bend his fingers due to a progressive muscle disease so cannot use a mouse or keyboard in the traditional way.

In the experiment, he wore headgear with three electrodes monitoring brain waves related to his hands and legs. Even though he cannot move his legs, he imagined that his character was walking.

He was then able to have a conversation with the other character using an attached microphone, said the researchers at Japan's Keio University.

It is the first time a paralysis patient has succeeded in meeting a person and having a conversation in an Internet virtual world, they added.

Researchers are now studying a system that would let patients create text messages by mentally selecting certain letters, said Junichi Ushiba, associate professor at the biosciences and informatics department of Keio Universty's Faculty of Science and Technology.

"In the near future, they would be able to stroll through Second Life shopping malls with their brain waves... and click to make a purchase," Ushiba said.

Second Life is an increasingly popular virtual world in which people -- and animals -- are represented by animated avatars and do everything from social activities to shopping.

Ushiba says Second Life could motivate patients with severe paralysis, who are often too depressed to undergo rehabilitation.