Scientists create brain-computer interface capable of learning commands

16 May 2014

Scientists in Japan have developed what may be the first brain-computer interface that allows users with severe physical or vocal disabilities to control objects and devices without mental fatigue.

Developed by a team of scientists and researchers from the Osaka University in Japan, the interface is comprised of a series of electrodes connected to the human brain which can compute relatively simple commands, such as turning on a TV or making a wheelchair move, and learn the user’s mental commands. For someone with severe disabilities, this alleviates an enormous amount of mental strain.

The ability to learn these commands is a breakthrough moment in the field. The team has been developing the technology over the last three years, and they say it is capable of learning 90pc of many common instructions.

The system learns when an action is not as intended – such as turning on the radio instead of the TV – and can judge using the EEG meters installed in the electrodes connected to the brain that the user is reacting negatively to the action and responds accordingly.

The potential uses of the technology is likely to expand in the future, with other applications including use in robot prosthetics, computer pointers or house appliances.  

One of the team members working on the project, Christian Isaac Peñaloza Sanchez, told Engineering & Technology Magazine the initial findings show an enormous decrease in the mental fatigue that many people with severe physical and vocal disabilities have when trying to carry out everyday actions.

“We’ve had pretty good results in various experiments with multiple people who have participated as volunteers in our in vivo trials,” Sanchez said.

“We found that user mental fatigue decreases significantly and the level of learning by the system increases substantially.”

Electrodes image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic