WEB DESK: Imagine being able to make a machine do your bidding with your thoughts alone, no button pressing, typing, screen tapping or fumbling with remote controls, just brainpower. Well, this sci-fi scenario could be closer to reality than you think.
Bill Kochevar’s life was changed, seemingly irrevocably, when he was paralysed from the shoulders down following a cycling accident nearly a decade ago.
His future looked bleak.
But last year he was fitted with a brain-computer interface, or BCI, that enabled him to move his arm and hand for the first time in eight years.
Sensors were implanted in his brain, then over a four-month period Mr Kochevar trained the system by thinking about specific movements, such as turning his wrist or gripping something.
The sensors effectively learned which bits of the brain fired up – and in what sequence – for each movement.
The aim of the system is to allow the vehicle to respond that split-second more quickly than a driver’s natural reaction time.
On a mountain road with lots of hairpin bends for example, brain-to-vehicle technology should make it easier to keep the car under control, says Nissan. In tests, even very experienced drivers have performed noticeably better using the system, the firm claims.
Meanwhile, virtual reality (VR) firm Neurable has developed a mind-controlled computer game that it says should be hitting the arcades later this year. Players wearing a sensor-equipped VR headset simply need to focus their thoughts on an object to manipulate it: there’s no hand controller at all.
At the more light-hearted end of the scale, EmojiMe has built a pair of brainwave-reading headphones that display the wearer’s emotional state in the form of animated emojis. It was originally invented as a joke, its creators say.
And there are plenty of other mind-controlled devices in the pipeline.
In the case of the Nissan brain-to-vehicle system, for example, this means monitoring the signals associated with what’s known as motion-related preparatory brain activity. This data is then correlated with information gathered by the vehicle itself.
“The headset would read this preparatory activity, and would pair that with the information the vehicle has from sensors and maps – for example, ‘there is a turn coming up in 200 metres’,” says spokesman Nick Maxfield.
“The AI uses this combination of the brainwaves and the sensor data to work out what to do – for example, ‘there’s a turn coming up, and she’s started to think about turning – at this rate, she’ll go into the turn a bit late, so let’s start the turn now’.”
For this reason, assures Mr Maxfield, there’s no chance of causing an accident by simply thinking about steering or braking.
Neurable, developer of the world’s first mind-controlled arcade game, claims that its system is the fastest non-invasive BCI and the most accurate at determining what the user wants to do, due to its machine learning system.