Ever since computers became central in people’s lives, the interactions we have with the machines have evolved from rudimentary punch cards to mouse and keyboard, to touch screens, voice and gestures.
But there’s always some kind of physical action acting as a barrier between us and the device. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just think of something, like a text to send, and the device would make it so?
That’s the promise of a new technology that’s already available in low-cost devices such as the Emotiv EPOC, which monitors your brain activity and allows you to control digital devices.
Mind controlled devices
They allow you to do a range of things: For instance, demonstration videos show users turning lights on and off, opening curtains, typing, drawing, or creating music on computers – even driving a car.
The technology can also be used to control wheelchairs, even for people who are paralyzed from the neck down.
More frivolous applications are also in the works, such as using the detection of emotion to dynamically change a video game as you’re playing it. For instance, if you’re playing a horror game and you’re feeling spooked out, the game can change lights and atmosphere to become even more scary.
This could also be used to measure the user experience of software, letting developers know exactly where users are happy or frustrated with a program or website.
The technology was the focus of a TED talk held by Tan Le from Emotiv:
How they work
Paradoxically, this futuristic technology is made possible by a century-old scientific discovery.
Called electroencephalography (EEG), the technique involves measuring electrical activity in the brain using electrodes connected to the scalp (old devices required you to shave your head for the procedure; recent ones don’t), according to a page on the University of Illinois’ engineering wiki. The electrical activity is a result of ions flowing over millions of neurons in the brain.
First pioneered in 1912, according to the wiki, the process has historically required large, expensive medical equipment.
However, technological advances has allowed manufacturers to shrink the EEG machines into wireless, Google Glass-sized headsets that cost less than $100.
With the invention of a new and open sourced mind-controlled device which connects a users brain waves to a computer using what developers call a brain to computer interface, the application of such devices could sky-rocket.
Paired with other devices, EEG readings can be very powerful. Consider, for instance, the data that could be collected from a person wearing an EEG device and augmented reality glasses that can detect where you look, as demonstrated in this video.
It could also be used to send thoughts between people telepathically – a method that the U.S. Defense Advanded Research Projects Agency has already started researching, according to the National Library of Medicine.
EEG signals could also become a way to control prosthetic limbs, the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers writes on its website.