- A paralyzed woman can walk in a virtual world. She controls her avatar with her mind.
- Two people with Lou Gehrig's disease discuss their favorite TV shows and tweets they read in Second Life, an online virtual world. Again, with only the mind.
- Home automation with thought.
- Virtual instruments in an orchestra are being controlled by thought alone.
- Robots controlled with brain waves.
- Someone sent a tweet with only a brain to computer interface.
All this and more is happening right now at medical engineering company Guger Technologies (G-Tec) in Schiedlberg, Austria. Their focus is on developing a reliable brain-computer interface (BCI). Using electroencephalograph (EEG) 'caps,' or electrical contact on the skull in this case, brain signals a recorded based on different stimuli.
The problem with other BCI systems was in reliability and the limited number of functions that the user can control at once. G-Tec's system exploits a signal called P300, or the involuntary increase in brain signals that occur due to random, unexpected events. G-Tec's CEO Guenter Edlinger said that a grid of options are displayed on a screen. Icons are flashed randomly, and it is easy to tell which icon they are looking at after detecting the spikes in P300 activity. In fact, the more functions on the screen the more of a shock it is to the user when their icon flashes.
The system is currently being tested at the Santa Lucia Foundation Hospital in Rome, Italy. 50 severely disabled volunteers being asked to test the system for use in the online social video game Second Life. Where the users are able to move around in the virtual world, interact with the world, and communicate via text while only using the BCI device. After a month of practice, users are showing improvement in using the device.
See more videos of G-Tec's BCI innovations on their research page. Their work will impress.
Further BCI innovation: EEG interfaces come in a few varieties. On a shaved head with a gel to aid in creating a firm contact. Others place the sensors on the brain directly. Direct skin contact with no gel is the worst type of sensor interface. However, G-Tec has created a EEG cap that need no gel. Like a small comb, it pushed through the hair and touches the skin in several places.