Brain Computer Interface at ISAAC 2014

Last week I was very fortunate to attend the ISAAC Conference in Portugal.  One of the highlights for me was learning more about Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) and even getting to try one.

Dr Melanie Fried-Oken, who is a really fabulous and practical researcher in the area of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) presented about the work they are doing with BCIs at Oregon Health & Science University. While she made it very clear that this technology is still in development stage, with researchers rather than users driving the direction at the moment, she also said that the technology is maturing and moving towards implementation for independent use in the home sometime (hopefully) in the next 10 years.

Guger Technologies, a cutting edge assistive technology company, had a Brain Computer Interface available for trial during the conference. Arnau Manzanal, who is based in their Barcelona office, assisted Melanie during the conference and was also kind enough to let me have a try.  At this stage, the technology works best if the user has very little movement - but that is something they are working on as they realise a range of users will be interested in this technology in the long term.

Also at this stage, the interfaces are all text based. Currently, there are no symbol based systems with a language organisation as in other AAC systems.

The way the system worked, was that it highlighted letters around 30 times (you can reduce the time as you become more proficient). I had to watch the letter I wanted to type - and every time it highlighted I had to count in my head, or say the word "now". The interface was then able to figure out which letter I wanted and type it for me without me touching anything.

See below for a video of my trial, kindly filmed by Sally Clendon.

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Using the BCI was amazing. It required a lot of concentration, which wasn't always easy in the busy conference setting.  However, it was still extremely exciting - and also a great sign that this technology is able to be used in a more mobile way than ever before (although it still isn't completely mobile). Use of the BCI at this conference reminded me of eye gaze at the ISAAC Conference in 2000. Back in 2000, eye gaze was highly temperamental, needed to be used in a dark environment and was very large and definitely not mobile. Today, we have multiple eye gaze systems which are very user friendly, highly portable and can be used in a wide range of environments and work with a variety of language organisation systems.  Hopefully, we'll see similar changes over the next decade with the BCI as it becomes more of a consumer technology.

And I really look forward to seeing this technology develop and to seeing the doors it will open!


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Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    Wow!! I can see that that would take a stupendous amount of concentration - I tried doing as described while watching along on the video and it's really hard... I totally agree with you about technologies maturing and the analogy with eye gaze though. I think this has a huge amount of potential and I'm grateful there's people working on it!

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