Amazing Stuff can report that aliens have taken over our neuroscientific research.
We are still reeling from the revelation of a machine that can read the imagery in your mind and play it all back to you as a video, but now must press on and introduce another of the alien meisterwerks: the mind-controlled wheelchair.
The story of the thought-propelled vehicle begins when an electroencephalograph (EEG) brainwave-reading skullcap is allied with software that can be instructed to associate certain patterns of concentrated thought with the movement of an object on the computer screen. When the subject with the EEG cap on then thinks that same thought again, the software will recognise the same pattern of brain activity and the object on the screen will move accordingly. Tan Le, a pioneer of this research, demonstrated this mind-machine interface in her 2010 TED talk:
The next stage was to translate thought into movement in the real world (as opposed to mere virtual space). That was a simple matter of rigging the computer up to an electric wheelchair, and thus the first versions of the mind-controlled wheelchair were born. Here is James May road-testing one at the University of Southampton, UK, as part of his BBC series James May’s Big Ideas:
As Mr May noticed, the main obstacle to fluid mind-powered motion for a novice is the inability to think precise enough thoughts – the mind-wheelchairist who spots a rat scurrying into the canal on his Sunday jaunt may find himself in quite a predicament…
Enter the most recent incarnation of the mind-controlled wheelchair, as developed by Professor José del R. Millán and his team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). Although it is fully mind-controlled, EPFL’s wheelchair is also able to ‘think’ for itself, registering its surroundings and preventing the short-attention span driver from ending up in a canal.
Applications of mind-machine interfaces reach far beyond wheelchairs. Nissan are already working with the team at EPFL on ways of letting your car know what your are planning to do… Follow us on Twitter to get news on that when it comes!
Via UK Channel 4’s excellent documentary Brave New World