A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a powerful technology, with proven potential to radically change the way that humans interact with the environment—and with each other. By enabling a connection between our brains and the outside world, BCI technology makes it possible for people who can’t communicate through movement or speech to express their thoughts, enables people to control devices with their minds, and could even have the potential to one day act as an extension of ourselves.
A BCI links the brain and an external device, enabling direct communication between the two. BCI technology can be invasive (implanted into the grey matter of the brain), semi-invasive (implanted inside the body and not directly in the brain), or non-invasive (such as wearables or headsets which function most commonly on EEG readings to translate brainwaves into data that devices can read). Non-invasive EEG wearables are increasingly accessible and have a wide range of current and future uses.
Future BCI Assistive Applications
The best-known application of the brain-computer interface is in medicine. BCIs enable people with very serious disabilities or illnesses to communicate with loved ones and caretakers.
MindScribe Device for ALS Patients: The MindScribe communication system powered by NeuroSky is designed to harness the power of the mind for people dealing with severe symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and similar diseases. Designed with NeuroSky’s trusted EEG-monitoring technology, MindScribe reads the patient’s brainwaves and translates them into messages, such as “yes” or “no”, and lets the user express feelings such as “happy” or “sad”, or type full sentences.
Healing Spinal Damage: BCI has also been used to increase neurological signals and help heal the brain from serious injuries, such as stroke and paralysis. One experiment had participants with complete spinal cord injuries wear caps with EEG sensors. The participants were fitted for exoskeletons equipped with a BCI that read their brainwaves. The patients were then able to direct the exoskeleton as an extension of their bodies, and some reported being able to feel or move their limbs for the first time since their injury occurred.
Using BCI for Entertainment
BCI applications aren’t all serious. Being able to control a device simply by using brainwaves has exciting implications for entertainment outside of medicine or research.
Sporting Events: Recently, BCI technology has been used in a drone race put on by the University of Florida. Participants’ brainwaves were monitored and translated into directions by a team of coders who then created commands to guide the drone to the finish line.
Gaming: The potential doesn’t end there—imagine being able to play video games just by thinking about what you want a character to do, or to thinking about how to get a ball it into a goal? The potential for BCI entertainment is endless.
Harnessing BCI to Enhance Daily Life
If you’ve ever wished you could add something to your to-do list simply by thinking about it, you might be in luck. By combining the power of BCI technology with the Internet of Things, you might just find that you think of something, and—as if by magic—it appears!
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnectedness of physical objects, enabling them to “speak” to each other. Devices, buildings, or vehicles can be linked with software, sensors, or electronics, and IoT enables these objects to receive, store and exchange data without requiring any human interaction. But what if humans could also connect to these devices?
Personal Assistant: IoT is already being used to control the temperature via smart thermostats, heartbeats are being controlled with enhanced pacemakers, and sensors even help prevent car accidents by sending environmental information to our vehicles, but what if it could do even more to help us on a daily basis? In the future, brain-computer interfaces could enable us to add eggs and apples to the grocery list just by remembering that we need them, or turning the air conditioning at home up or down just by thinking about the right temperature.
Access to Information: Brain-computer interfaces might also help us to access the vast amount of information available on the Internet, effectively giving us the power to have any piece of information online available at our fingertips.
The potential for BCI is endless, and when combined with powerful EEG products, such as NeuroSky’s ThinkGear AM EEG sensor or MindWave™ Mobile EEG headsets, it’s easier than ever to create—and enjoy—brain-computer interfaces that make us healthier, happier and smarter.