Computer types out messages by reading your mind

A new computer interface allows users to type out messages using only their mind.

A new computer interface allows users to type out messages using only their mind, although you probably shouldn't think about ditching your keyboard just yet.

IntendiX, a machine-brain interfacing technology developed by Austrian-based Guger Technologies, enables users to compose messages by using their eyes to select characters on a virtual keyboard. But take note that it took novices around 40 seconds to correctly type out each character -- which feels excruciatingly slow compared to doing typing by hand.

However, the interface could be useful for disabled users who are unable to type using conventional methods. The messages can then be communicated audibly using text to speech software a la world famous physicist Stephen Hawking. The messages can also be sent as an email or text message. For social networking addicts, there's even a Twitter interface.

The interface is based on electroencephalograph or EEG technology that can decode the intentions behind specific brainwave patterns. Interfacing with the computer involves wearing a tight-fitting skull cap fitted with electrodes that, in conjunction with a brainwave amplifier, detects and transmits brain activity to a Windows application for analysis. A major advantage of the system is that while EEG systems typically require hours of training to learn and correctly interpret a user's brainwave patterns, intendiX can get it done in about five to 10 minutes.

The system works by keying in on a brainwave pattern known as P300 ERP or event-related potential, a reaction that occurs right after being exposed to certain visual signals such as the instance of brake lights suddenly coming on. To type out a message, users stare at a chosen character as columns are sequentially flashed. The software determines which column the chosen character is located by watching for an occurrence of that brainwave pattern, which should happen the moment that column is flashed. Then it flashes each of the rows until it detects a similar response. It then types the character located at the intersection of the row and column detected, a process similar to cross-indexing.

The Guger Technologies research team is still working on ways to improve the technology, such as speeding up the response time. The company says that they've sped up the typing to a rate to about a character a second. Here's a video of the researchers demonstrating how the technology works at CeBIT.

Photo: Guger Technologies

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