An everyday technology is becoming the central figure in how scientists understand and diagnose Parkinson’s—the keyboard. Researchers at MIT are working on a method that would create keyboards that could actually tell whether you have this unfortunately common neuron impairment.

It’s all mechanical—no apps or special software required. All the information is hidden in the precise ways we all strike keys on a keyboard. Ian Butterworth, who’s part of the team working on this bit of everyday-tech-meets-complex science project, explains exactly how this is possible:

There’s a subtlety to the way that we type, to the way our fingers interact with keyboards. When your finger moves down toward the key and senses that your finger impacts the key and that the key is depressed, your brain understands this and then sends back a signal to release the finger. When psychomotor performance is impeded, that time can fluctuate. And those are the types of things we’re looking into, are those subtle typing effects and how typing happens.

The team tested the idea by using well-rested and fatigued test subjects, since fatigue is a type of neuron impairment. After pumping the data through pattern recognition and machine learning algorithms, the differences between the two behaviors were striking.


The problem with Parkinson’s is that sometimes symptoms don’t surface years after onset. Imagine using your keyboard while you’re working, like normal, while it actively monitors for any concerning changes in neuron impairment that could be evidence of a serious disease or disorder. It’s well-known that by the way we type, we divulge secrets about ourselves. People are even finding ways to eliminate the password by sensing the way you type. This all seems way more useful than Bluetooth. [MIT]

Image via Shutterstock/Gajus