A better wearable brain-computer interface

A better wearable brain-computer interface

Summary: The skin-like wearable electronic interface developed at the University of Illinois opens up possibilities in the field of brain-computer interfaces well beyond biomedical applications.

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TOPICS: Health
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Gartner's newly released Hype Cycle for emerging technologies suggests it will take more than 10 years before brain-computer interfaces (BCI) go mainstream, but recent developments could shift the adoption curve.

As reported on sister site CNET (see gallery on SmartPlanet), engineers at the University of Illinois demonstrated a tattoo-like "device platform" with electronic components for medical diagnostics, communications and human-machine interfacing. It's essentially a patch so thin and durable that it can be mounted to skin much like a temporary tattoo.

The device represents a paradigm shift in brain-computer interfacing because until now, most systems that used EEG (electroencephalography) required clunky headsets and plenty of accompanying electronic components and devices. This holds true for systems in R&D labs and those commercially available, such as from Emotiv and S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames.

BCIs in academia hold a lot of promise for those with impaired or limited brain or motor control. For instance, researchers at the University of Maryland recently created a "brain cap" that taps into a user’s neural network to control computers, robotic prosthetic limbs and motorized wheelchairs.

The BCI developed at the University of Illinois is no different in this respect, but it also opens up a slew of previously unimaginable possibilities in the field of brain-machine interfaces well beyond biomedical applications, said UC San Diego professor Todd Coleman. He explained in a news release:

The brain-machine interface paradigm is very exciting, and I think it need not be limited to thinking about prosthetics or people with some type of motor deficit. I think taking the lens of the human and computer interacting, and if you could evolve a very nice coupling that is remarkably natural and almost ubiquitous, I think there are applications that we haven’t even imagined. That is what really fascinates me -- really the coupling between the biological system and the computer system.

Coleman and his researchers helped to create the wearable device's circuit design and signal processing and used it to enable a person to control a computer game with muscles in his throat by speaking the commands. They're now exploring what other capabilities could be achieved, such as to enhance a group's ability to work as a team by simultaneously acquiring all of the neural signals and coupling them with a computer.

One of the advantages of using EEG-powered brain-computer interfaces is that they allow for non-invasive interfacing, meaning you do not need to make an implant directly into the brain. But there are drawbacks to a system primarily built on pattern recognition. ExtremeTech's Sebastian Anthony lays it out well:

The problem with EEGs (and with any "mind reading” interface) is that we can’t actually understand the brain. We can see various neurons firing and measure the electrical signals and waves that they produce, but we don’t know what they mean. For these systems to work, then, the computer controllers must be trained to recognize the electrical state of the brain when it’s trying to brake or shift gears. In other words, basic cryptanalysis/linguistic analysis is used: if a tribal pygmy always greets you with a smile, a wave, and an unknown grunt, you can assume that the grunt will mean “hello.” It’s a brute force way of understanding a system, but if you only know the most basic rules of how the system works, that’s all you can do.

Brute it may be, but BCI technology is continually improving in both reliability and functionality. One day, controlling most aspects of your environment with thought alone may not be as far-fetched as it seems right now. Coleman said:

If you think about the advances that are being made in artificial hips and rehabilitation and the fact that people are living longer, it is no longer the case that your body is giving up before your mind. It’s going to be increasingly the case that we need to think about fixing minds along with fixing bodies."

Topic: Health

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  • A better wearable brain-computer interface

    researchers concentrated on electromechanical interface because it is something tangible that we can touch, manipulate and observe. telekinesis is considered to be just a figment of imagination of those who believed in it. but, if the unifying string theory is to be believed (in my wildest dream, but not in my lifetime), then the existence of another type of interface will be non-invasive. that the human mind is capable of sending commands without tethering, may sound absurd, but like light which can not be explained by electromagnetic theory, the mind can produce signal that we do not have the capability of observing with our present technology. so nobody is seriously studying those signals, hence telekinesis is just a witchcraft. string theory can not be proved, because we do not possess the technology to observe those strings, or to prove of their existence. yet we are hoping they exist to unify our understanding of Newton's gravity, Einstein's relativity, and the quantum-mechanical theories. i still remember the experiment i read about shrimps boiled alive and their effect on plants nearby (monitored electromechanically at the point of shrimps' death.) my point is, the future of man-machine interface is in its infancy. we have to wait a little longer for the advances bordering that of witchcraft.
    kc63092@...
    • RE: A better wearable brain-computer interface

      @kc63092@... <br><br>What's the color of the sky in your universe? Obviously it has completely different physical laws.<br><br>Telekinesis is a figment of the imagination until we can manipulate gravity and tie that in to a brain interface. The signals the brain (not mind) emits are very simple electromagnetically, but hard to understand.<br><br>Unfortunately, there is no such thing as magic, even with advanced technology <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink">

      The good thing about BCI is it might get us out of this current obsession with touch, which is unsuitable for so many interfaces.
      tonymcs@...
      • A better wearable brain-computer interface

        @tonymcs@... <br>the string theory is supposed to help us understand what is not understandable at this time. and you are right in your assertion. hope that am still alive when they unified the theories that will liberate us from our ignorance and maybe see the time when we human can control gravity, design and build civilization beyond our wildest dreams. and the BCI is another small step in that direction...
        kc63092@...
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