Over at Wired, there’s a story about a thought-controlled wheelchair:
Spanish scientists have begun work on a new brain-computer interface, or BCI, capable of converting thought into commands that a wheelchair can execute… The Spanish researchers hope to develop a small, mobile interface that works with electroencephalogram electrodes, or EEG, placed on the scalp.
“We are planning to use non-invasive devices to record the rhythms from the surface of the skull,” says Javier Minguez, a researcher at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. “We also plan to use this system with a school for disabled children that we collaborate with and (we) prefer to use non-invasive techniques with these children.”
…While EEGs have a reputation for providing very crude signals, advances in decoding algorithms yield patterns that are precise enough to control the movements of a wheelchair.
“You’re not going to be using EEGs to control a robotic arm to play the piano or anything,” says Dawn Taylor, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, who isn’t involved in the project. “But you can certainly turn right and left and stop and go using that sort of signal.”
Two 800-MHz Intel computers mounted on the wheelchair will process these readings and send instructions to the wheels. After about a week’s training the software will adapt to patients’ thought patterns for simple commands such as “left” and “right.”
The team hopes to use a combination of thought and mapping software to enable more complicated “macro” commands such as “Go to the kitchen.”
“The important issue is to have a good selection of the mental tasks for each user, so that they produce discriminable EEG patterns,” Minguez says.
A front-mounted laser will work as a sensor, detecting obstacles ahead and changes in the environment, like furniture that has been moved. This is particularly important for people with limited head and neck mobility, as they often cannot clearly see the way ahead, especially at ground level.
“One of the real advantages of using robotic wheelchairs is that their navigation technologies can override mechanical and human errors,” says Minguez.