We have seen many futurist slidedecks over the years state that any sufficiently advanced technology is supposedly “indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke’s Third Law).
Today we’ll look at a few projects that are combining various connected devices with the most sophisticated computer in the known universe — the human brain to create seemingly enchanted objects.
Brain-computer interfaces have been around for a while, but are often invasive — early experiments in the 1970s involved implanting electrodes in the brains of monkeys. Luckily, today there are electroencephalograms that can be slipped over the head like a close-fitting cap, or worn like a headband. And researchers are getting better and better at creating algorithms that can decode fine distinctions in brain activity from EEG data. All of which means that wearable devices we can operate with our minds are finally becoming a reality.
We wrote recently about the MindRider project, which embeds a lightweight commercial EEG reader into a bike helmet to interpret the rider’s mood. The team behind MindRider is working on prototype designs for a commercial helmet and conducting beta tests of their mood-mapping software in Manhattan
Neurocam, a project of Japanese tech design firm Neurowear and bio-signalling researcher Yasue Mitsukura of Keio University, is a head-mounted EEG with a camera that attaches to a smartphone. When the user’s brain pattern indicates interest and enjoyment, the camera automatically captures a five-second animated gif and sends it to the phone to be uploaded and shared. It looks even geekier than Google Glass, but at least you don’t have to talk to it to take a picture.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Minnesota are making it easier than ever to be a helicopter pilot — you don’t even have to use your hands. In research published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, they’ve devised an EEG system that allows a pilot to control a quadcopter with her mind. By thinking about making fists with her left, right, or both hands (but not actually moving), she can fly the lightweight drone around and through a variety of obstacles. The scientists hope this research will pave the way for better wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs that can the user can control with a thought — and without a surgical implant.
Similar research at the University of Malta lets users control a music player simply by glancing at icons on a screen. Each icon flashes at a unique frequency, too quick for a person to be aware of, but detectable by neurons in the eye and visual cortex — and therefore detectable by an EEG.
These are just a handful of projects exploring the possibilities of brain-computer interfaces. As this technology is applied to more and more networked devices, the Internet of Things may become the gateway to controlling just about everything with our thoughts — giving new meaning to the old adage “mind over matter.”