I think - therefore I ‘Arm’
By G Peyton, Biomedical Engineering Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand
Electricity+Control, December 2013 (pages 36 - 37)
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A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a communication interface between a human and a computer. Brain-computer interfaces provide a direct, alternative means for humans to interact with machines and vice versa. The communication medium allows a human being to interact with the machine cognitively instead of through other means such as tactile or verbal input. Brain-computer interfaces would therefore greatly benefit those with severe disabilities such as locked-in syndrome or quadriplegia. Locked-in syndrome is a condition in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes. Brain-computer interfaces would provide such individuals with a greater degree of independence by enabling them to interact with their environment.
Spurred on by the possibility of assisting disabled people in this way, students Graham Peyton and Rudolf Hoehler from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, designed a brain-computer interface that translates cognitive commands and facial gestures into movements of a robotic arm. The students designed the system as part of their fourth year Electrical Engineering project at Wits, within the Biomedical Engineering Research Group in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, and under the supervision of Adam Pantanowitz. Professor David Rubin is the leader of the Biomedical Engineering Research Group.
The system is a non-invasive brain-computer interface that makes use of electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) to measure the electrical activity produced by the brain on the surface of the scalp, and the electrical activity of facial muscles responsible for facial gestures. It is designed to enable the user to operate a robotic arm in one of two ways.
Despite some challenges, robotic prostheses and brain-computer interfaces will undoubtedly gain momentum in the near future. Ray Kurzweil, the acclaimed inventor and futurist, believes that humans and technology will eventually merge. We have always been a human-machine civilisation; since the origin of our species, we created tools to extend our reach, and will continue to do so. Increasingly advanced research in the field of brain-computer interfaces is becoming so advanced that it is set to create a whole new symbiotic relationship between man and machine.
- A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a communication interface between a human being and a computer.
- A brain-computer interface that translates cognitive commands and facial gestures into movements of a robotic arm has been designed.
- The possibilities for brain-computer interface applications in other areas – such as information technology – are limitless.