Mind Over Matter: Controlling Technology With Our Brains

On my very first post I wrote about telepathy and the linkage of two human brains. Now, I want to explore mind control further and talk about brain-computer interfaces, i.e. using only our brainwaves to control technology. When I say technology, I’m talking about many different types; prosthetics, games, computers, exoskeletons, iphones, you name it… they all can be controlled with your mind alone.

Research into brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) began at UCLA in the 1970s, and since then, the field has exploded. Even at the past world cup, BCI’s made an appearance as a paralyzed teen kicked the first soccer ball wearing an exoskeleton suit he controlled with his mind. That’s right, a paralyzed teen walked using a robotic exoskeleton that he controlled with his mind. Check it out:

A lot of research has gone into brain-computer interfaces, and the field has the power to revolutionize medicine. Currently, devices have already been developed that replace missing or damaged biological functions. Think cochlear implants, which physically stimulate the auditory nerve to help deaf individuals hear, or visual prosthetics, that stimulate the optic nerve to create images. With these two types of prosthetics, an implantable device acquires and processes information from the outside world, and then it converts the data into a pattern of electrical stimulation that it delivers to a certain nerve. This type of technology has been around for a while, but what about mind controlled arms and legs? That becomes a bit more complex.

One of the coolest inventions of 2014 was a mind controlled robotic arm that allowed a quadriplegic to pick up and move objects. This is big; those who have lost motor function have another chance at movement. How does this technology work though? In this case, small electrodes were implanted into regions of the patient’s brain that would normally control arm and hand movement. So, when the patient would think about a movement, the electrodes picked up the signals, relayed them to a computer that identifies the firing patterns, and the computer directed the movements of a prosthetic arm. It was only within a week of the electrode implants that the patient could move her prosthetic arm with just her thoughts. Another major case in 2014 involved a double arm amputee. For this patient, the nerves controlling his arms were surgically re-routed to the pectoral muscles, and using EEG, electrodes on his skin picked up the activity of the nerves. A computer then decoded the intent of the nerves and generated motion. Look at this dexterity and control of the prosthetic, just with his mind!

The ultimate goal of many of these researchers is interactive devices—ones that send information from the brain to the robotic arm but also from the arm to the brain. This way, the user would be able to regain touch sensations and know the limb’s location (proprioception). Eventually, the technology would be so interactive that the limbs would do the same as those of able-bodied humans.

Now before I end the post, I want to mention that game and app makers are utilizing this technology to make new ways to play. EEG headsets have moved into the commercial venue, and now there are mind-controlled helicopters, ball games, and music generators. Additionally, certain games are paired with headsets to allow the user to create and move an avatar in the game. Check out some of the inventions below:

Puzzlebox Orbit- uses android and iphone apps to read your brain activity off the headset and transmit commands to the helicopter
Neurosky Mind flex game- use your mind to control a ball through an obstacle course

That’s all I have this week. As you can see, mind-reading technology is really taking off, and has everything from medical to gaming applications. I think we will start seeing a lot more of this stuff in the future!






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