Electric Wheelchair Future Technology

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Brain Controlled Electric Wheelchair and Mind Controlled Mouse Pointer (part 1)

Recently we had an opportunity to see interesting BCI solutions (Brain-Computer Interface), that provide a new communication channel between the human brain and the computer (also allowing operating various devices). As you probably know, mental activity leads to changes of electrophysiological signals like the Electroencephalogram (EEG) or Electrocorticogram (ECoG), and BCI systems detect such changes and transform them into control signals which can, for example, be used as control devices for operating electric wheelchairs.

One of the main goals for BCI devices is to enable completely paralyzed patients (locked-in syndrome) to interact with world around them (use mouse pointer on computer, communicate over internet) and to make their life more accessible (operating electronic devices, driving electric powered wheelchair)…

 

What seemed to be science fiction yet a decade ago is now a reality. We witnessed the demonstration of three devices, developed by companies with completely different background. The operating details for three devices are way different, yet all devices follow the similar concept, but come at different price tag and availability. Cyberlink’s Brainfingers is already on the market, Emotiv’s is in final stages of development and is scheduled for 2008, and the most advanced one, Guger Technology’s g.BCI is still in research and development, although it already shows remarkable advancements.

All these devices harvest modern computer’s number creunching capabilities, to decode brain waves and interpret them properly. Some of the solutions have roots in academic research done by institutes and universities, other are pure commercial in nature. Although all of them can be used to manipulate external devices (piloting motors, driving vehicles…) they can also be used to control computers, to move the mouse pointer, to input characters (although some provide choosing from table of characters, and others more sophisticated direct input) and therefore communicate (directly or via internet). But the main driver of all these devices is the entertainment industry, especially computer games. This will drive the mass market of this kind of devices, and bring the price down from several thousand to few hundred dollars…

The offerings…

1. Cyberlink Brainfingers – control computer with power of thought

Brain Actuated Technologies Inc. Solution consists of Cyberlink device and Brainfingers software. Cyberlink is a pale white box the size of an external computer modem and a head-band that looks like Boris Becker’s tennis band, and together they do what science fiction writers dreamt for decades – allow users to control the computer or application (via  external motors it can move/pilot vehicles/devices) with brain.

Device was designed for broad range of people with disabilities, from minor to severe. Device is connected to computer’s USB or serial port, and a head-band with integrated sensors is placed on user’s head. Cyberlink Brainfingers is a bio-feedback device, which passively measures awareness of user’s brain and body activity. Since it does not emit anything it poses no danger what so ever. Device is able to detect activity of facial muscles, lateral eye movement, alpha and beta brainwaves (with gamma as possibility).

Solution allows user to map various commands to specific triggers (lateral eye movement, various levels of brainwaves…), allowing full control of computer including movement of cursor, clicking, keyboard functions. With some training (and tine tuning of software) even completely paralyzed user can fully control computer and more importantly communicate with outside world via Internet.

Usage in the first 15 minutes is erratic, but after half hour we start getting the feeling, and after few days you can learn to bring your brainwaves under conscious control while simultaneously retaining an awareness of your body tension/relaxation state. It is simple to use facial muscles, eye movement, and within a day we learned how to influence on our alpha and beta brainwaves, but gamma is a bit trickier…

Brainfinger device was successfully used for computer access by persons with disabilities such as CP, ALS, MD, MS, TBI, and Spinal Cord Injury. Cyberlink Brainfingers is already available, pricing starts at $ 2.100 for basic kit (plus tax), but with several accessories it can go around $ 3.500… More info at Brainfingers web site.