The Unlock Project: BCIs for Locked-In Syndrome

The Unlock Project was a research initiative involving researchers from Boston University, Northeastern University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Kansas whose purpose was to develop brain-computer interface (BCI) technology for individuals suffering from locked-in syndrome (LIS), characterized by complete or near-complete loss of voluntary motor function with intact sensation and cognition. LIS is typically the result of brain stem stroke or late stage amyotrophic lateral schlerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Being locked in has been compared to being buried alive; sufferers of LIS often feel completely isolated from friends and family due to their inability to communicate. A video from Science Nation describing locked-in syndrome and the Unlock Project is included below.


In addition to generating a number of important BCI research contributions (see Publications below), Unlock Project programmers  developed a Python-based modular software framework for developing “apps” that can be controlled by a wide range of hardware input devices, including commercially available electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) systems. This software package is freely available through Github. Further information about the Unlock Project software framework is available in this document.

The Unlock Project was funded by CELEST, an NSF Science of Learning Center (NSF SMA-0835976), and ran from 2009 to 2016.