Brain-computer interface technology continues to advance, with one patient now able to control a robotic hand with his thoughts.

Any geek worthy of the moniker has dreamed of connecting his or her brain directly to a computer for blissful freedom from keyboard and mouse. For quadriplegics, that ability would give life a whole new dimension.

If people with physical handicaps could control a computer by just thinking, they could also operate light switches, television, even a robotic arm — something the 160,000 people in the United States who can’t move their arms and legs would surely welcome.

Work in that brain-computer interface, or BCI, technology has ramped up considerably in the past five years. More than half of the scientific papers on the topic were published in just the past two years. Also, by connecting their patients’ brains directly to a computer, researchers have seen improvement in patients’ ability to control a cursor.

Cyberkinetics is leading research on BCIs in the private sector. Last year the company enrolled its first patient, Matthew Nagle, in a clinical trial to test its BrainGate system. From his wheelchair, Nagle can now open e-mail, change TV channels, turn on lights, play video games like Tetris and even move a robotic hand, just by thinking.

More here.