Controlling computers –- or anything else -– with the brain has been done using electroencephalograms, or EEGs, but they require wearing a skullcap on your head. Now a small company in North Carolina says it has a way around that, and in the process has created an tool for training people to stay alert when involved in important tasks.
Freer Logic (named for its founder and CEO Peter Freer) came up with a system called BodyWave. It’s not dissimilar to an ordinary EEG, except it works with sensors that can be put around an arm rather than the head.
While it is harder to pick up signals from farther away from the head, Freer told Discovery News that the signal strength per se isn’t too much of a problem. “You wouldn’t use this for clinical applications,” he said. So this wouldn’t be any good for a scientist or doctor trying to get a picture of brain activity. But it is fine when trying to detect the activity, called beta waves, that indicates attention.
BodyWave can detect when someone is paying attention to something. Freer noted that the system has been used to train nuclear power plant workers as well as to help understand the best way to design control systems. (For example: Knowing what grabs a person’s attention can tell you where to put an alarm display).
Connected to a computer, BodyWave can tell when someone is paying attention and sound an alarm when they aren’t. Something like this can also be used in cars -– for instance, sounding an alarm if a driver's attention drifts.
This isn’t a brain-computer interface of the kind science fiction writers imagine; rather, it’s more akin to a control mechanism like the one used for controlling games with the mind or typing. But it might be one more step in freeing us all from the tyranny of the mouse.
Image: Freer Logic