Mar 082006

Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology working in conjunction with the Department of Neurology at Berlin’s Charite hospital have developed a neural interface capable of intercepting neural impulses in the brain and using them to control a cursor and write sentences on a computer. The system, aptly dubbed the Brain Computer Interface, will be on display at CeBIT which opens tomorrow in Hanover, Germany.

Functioning in the same manner as a traditional electroencephalogram (EEG), the brain-ward side of the BCI consists of 128 electrodes which are attached to the user’s scalp. Using sophisticated self-learning algorithms, the computer is able to identify, isolate, and respond to the neural signals that control its functions.

While the system does show promise, the technology is still admittedly immature. It can take upwards of 5 to 10 minutes to write a single sentence as the subject hones in on letters from successively smaller groups of choices. Additionally it can take as long as an hour to attach the electrodes to the user, a process that is a two-person job. The creators hope to overcome this limitation this year, however, as new advances in contact-free EEG are made.

The goal of the interface and the research involved is the development of a BCI device that can be used by people with severe physical disabilities to communicate. The researchers envision creating a mobile version that could be used at accident scenes by EMS personnel to communicate with victims whose physical injuries prohibit them from speaking. There are also limitless opportunities for this technology in less altruistic settings including personal entertainment and video games.

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