Brain To Computer, A New Realm Of Possibilities
First Published: Investigator - February 2008
Exciting technology that could help users move a wheelchair or a cursor on a computer screen with a thought is currently under investigation at Flinders University and Flinders Medical Centre (FMC).
Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology is a new area of research that has grown dramatically in the last five years.
A BCI is a computer program that measures thought patterns and translates them into actions, bypassing the peripheral nervous system.
The Flinders BCI project is a result of Sean Fitzgibbon’s PhD thesis, led by Professor Richard Clark and Associate Professor David Powers. The system measures brainwaves using electroencephalography (EEG) and identifies patterns that reflect specific thoughts, such as the intention to move a cursor.
“At this stage our research is focused on using pre-recorded EEG data from participants to trial the system offline,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “This means collecting brain activity from a number of people and teaching the BCI to identify the relevant thought patterns.”
Simple BCI’s are currently on the market for clinical use, but the user must learn pre-defined rules to make these systems work.
The Flinders BCI is a more sophisticated system that learns from the user and adapts to each user’s specific patterns of brain activity.
In order for this system to work it must be able to interpret ‘background thoughts’ from those that make the BCI act. The Flinders BCI has a unique algorithm that identifies and discards irrelevant thought patterns to create the correct actions.
To date, the offline performance of the system has been very good. The next step will be to take the system online, with participants using it to move a cursor on a computer screen and drive a wheelchair.
BCI technology will create new ways for society to interact and communicate. But for those with disabilities, such as locked in syndrome and quadriplegic’s where the brain is still healthy but the body no longer works as it should, BCI’s will make a world of difference in quality of life.