One day, we may be able to check e-mail or call a friend without ever touching a screen or even speaking to a disembodied helper. Samsung is researching how to bring mind control to its mobile devices with the hope of developing ways for people with mobility impairments to connect to the world. The ultimate goal of the project, say researchers in the company’s Emerging Technology Lab, is to broaden the ways in which all people can interact with devices.
In collaboration with Roozbeh Jafari, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas, Dallas, Samsung researchers are testing how people can use their thoughts to launch an application, select a contact, select a song from a playlist, or power up or down a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. While Samsung has no immediate plans to offer a brain-controlled phone, the early-stage research, which involves a cap studded with EEG-monitoring electrodes, shows how a brain-computer interface could help people with mobility issues complete tasks that would otherwise be impossible.
Brain-computer interfaces that monitor brainwaves through EEG have already made their way to the market. NeuroSky’s headset uses EEG readings as well as electromyography to pick up signals about a person’s level of concentration to control toys and games (see “Next-Generation Toys Read Brain Waves, May Help Kids Focus”). Emotiv Systems sells a headset that reads EEG and facial expression to enhance the experience of gaming (see “Mind-Reading Game Controller”).
To use EEG-detected brain signals to control a smartphone, the Samsung and UT Dallas researchers monitored well-known brain activity patterns that occur when people are shown repetitive visual patterns. In their demonstration, the researchers found that people could launch an application and make selections within it by concentrating on an icon that was blinking at a distinctive frequency.
Robert Jacob, a human-computer interaction researcher at Tufts University, says the project fits into a broader effort by researchers to find more ways for communicating with small devices like smartphones. “This is one of the ways to expand the type of input you can have and still stick the phone in the pocket,” he says.
Finding new ways to interact with mobile devices has driven the project, says Insoo Kim, Samsung’s lead researcher. “Several years ago, a small keypad was the only input modality to control the phone, but nowadays the user can use voice, touch, gesture, and eye movement to control and interact with mobile devices,” says Kim. “Adding more input modalities will provide us with more convenient and richer ways of interacting with mobile devices.”
Still, it will take considerable research for a brain-computer interface to become a new way of interacting with smartphones, says Kim. The initial focus for the team was to develop signal processing methods that could extract the right information to control a device from weak and noisy EEG signals, and to get those methods to work on a mobile device.
Jafari’s research is addressing another challenge—developing more convenient EEG sensors. Classic EEG systems have gel or wet contact electrodes, which means a bit of liquid material has to come between a person’s scalp and the sensor. “Depending on how many electrodes you have, this can take up to 45 minutes to set up, and the system is uncomfortable,” says Jafari. His sensors, however, do not require a liquid bridge and take about 10 seconds to set up, he says. But they still require the user to wear a cap covered with wires.
The concept of a dry EEG is not new, and it can carry the drawback of lower signal quality, but Jafari says his group is improving the system’s processing of brain signals. Ultimately, if reliable EEG contacts were convenient to use and slimmed down, a brain-controlled device could look like “a cap that people wear all day long,” says Jafari.
Kim says the speed with which a user of the EEG-control system can control the tablet depends on the user. In the team’s limited experiments, users could, on average, make a selection once every five seconds with an accuracy ranging from 80 to 95 percent.
“It is nearly impossible to accurately predict what the future might bring,” says Kim, “but given the broad support for initiatives such as the U.S. BRAIN initiative, improvements in man-machine interfaces seem inevitable” (see “Interview with BRAIN Project Pioneer: Miyoung Chun”).
[Image from MIT Technology Review]
@CircleBalpacas Looks like something out of an SNL spoof of Star Trek.
@AngelaMazzi And maybe ask someone from Apple about form factor and design appeal. Hard to imagine "I must have that!" in current form
@hwakelam brain patterns, safely logged and stored by google. Resistance is futile. Scary stuff
@megbutton no way sounds wild, thanks
If you establish a link between your organic brain and the digital/electronic world then your organic but electrically stimulated brain could be susceptible to whichever malware infects the non-organic brain in the device on the other side of the link. Electricity works in a loop and is not linear so it could work. I told friends about twenty years ago what I thought of the RFID chips when they were being put in pets….we’re next. So far the implant for humans is voluntary as another way to keep your children safe. So far……….Just think of the efficiency(power ) available to the government and the law enforcement community when everyone has their own LoJack or OnStar module or chip ? The FBI was forced a few years ago in senate hearings to tell how come it was only learned by accident that they had the technology to use our cell phone microphones to eavesdrop on us even when the phone was turned off. Don’t take my word for it, do whatever you do for an internet search. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that they are not there, watching to see what you do and listening to hear what you say. Statements like my last one used to be considered sarcastic replies by the educated and informed to the schizophrenics and Doom Merchants.Take a few days and think about this, look it up and talk it up. See if what you come up with differs from what you are saying right now.
@hwakelam mine would have erratic performance, be prone to crashing, and low memory and processing speeds *boom tish* (sorry)
@diedagum erm, what else do you use to control your tablet?
@roguepuppet I'd like to try that out on some I know..I've long suspected they don't have a brain. Interesting to see how blank it goes! ;-)
@ajinkya4793 two words..... Fancy stuffs... :/
Is a there a threat of brain damage from hackers when you are networked to the device of choice? If they can get into my netbook and infect it with malware why couldn't a talented hacker slide a little malware up under my medulla oblongata? If while operating with this IT enabled brain infection could I be legally at risk of prosecution if I did indeed obey the evil ones and commit a crime? Is Norton going to sell anti-malware hats or face shields? Will HMOs cover the cost? How about co-pay amounts? I remember when people were scorned in the past for wearing hats made from aluminum foil for protection from space rays and commie spy devices but maybe now they don't look so crazy, do they?
lubewright, I think you are confusing this with telekinesis. One could say that this is "Read-only". a device like this would only read the signals that your brain emits, it would not send signals back to the brain.
@Lubewright are you serious, the brain is just an input device. have you ever needed an antivirus so not to infect your mouse or keyboard?
@Lubewright Lol dont be so paranoid. Your brain is an organ, not a piece of software.
@EvaSzwichtenber Now this IS fresh;)
@mfordscot thanks, it's what we work on at#willshift, it snowballed to big project
@EvaSzwichtenber he was the smartest guy on the stage at CES
@mfordscot have a wonderful day, it's almost midnight here going to sleep
@mfordscot it's been 4 months it snowballed, in this short time was able to attract many brilliant minds
@EvaSzwichtenber You are fortunate to have the ability to do something so worthwhile. I envy you that! I wish you well with it. <3
@mfordscot and it hit me like ton of bricks, I have know-how, know-why so I start working
@EvaSzwichtenber Fascinates 'oldies' like me too LOL. I'm a tech geek writer so I'm all for steAm with a spiritual edge.
@mfordscot and create freeminded answers for tomorrow. How to connect soul and mind and fascinate kids in technology