Brain-Computer Interface
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Overview

The Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a device that allows for direct communication between the brain and some other non-body device. If you could type on your computer, just by thinking words or letters, rather than typing them, that would be a good way of imagining the possibilities. This sort of thing is possible because the brain is remarkably good at adapting to new circumstances, and once a user is used to it, the external device can be operated very easily. This field has largely been aimed at restoring lost brain functions, such as loss of hearing, sight, etc. BCI research has primarily been weakened by there not being a such thing as a sensor that allows for safe and accurate detecting of brain signals.


How does Brain-Computer Interface Work?

Up until now, brain-computer interface is a device that has largely been viewed as science fiction and not a realty. In fact, the only time that we would see BCI’s were in movies such as Surrogates, Avatar and Iron Man. However, with the advancement of computer technology that is beginning to change and BCI’s are, in fact, becoming a reality. How would such a high tech system actually work? Our brains are filled with individual nerve cells that that are able to control and store the way we think, move and/or feel. These nerves, or neurons, are “carried out by small electric signals that zip from neuron to neuron as fast as 250 mph.” Scientists are then able to extract some of the electric signals and are able to interpret what they mean. Once the scientists are able to figure the electric signals, they are able to direct a device of some kind. The incredible science behind this is that scientists are now able to reverse this procedure. This opens the door for numerous possibilities such as allowing a blind person to see certain colors. Watch the video below to see BCI demonstrated on 60 minutes:






Applications

The BCI is already in use and research continues to move forward. Invasive BCIs (those implanted directly into the brain) are currently in use to restore loss of certain important brain functions. Restoration of sight is one of the bigger successes of BCIs. They have also been used to allow a patient with locked-in syndrome to be able to eventually control a computer cursor. A more recent experiment known as Brain Gate has allowed a quadraplegic man to control a robotic arm, as well as allowing him to move a computer cursor, turn lights on and off, and operate a television.

All of this sounds great, especially for people who have disabilities that can be solved by this technology, however, the average person likely would not want to have their brain opened up just so they didn't have to push any buttons anymore. To solve this, the company Emotiv (link below) has developed a wireless device that is simply worn on the head which can detect and process brain signals. This allows for all kinds of applications for just about anyone, not simply those willing to have their brain opened up and tinkered with.


Web Resources

The Emotive Website
http://www.emotiv.com/epoc-demo.html

Places to go to read about other cool "science-fictiony" technologies:
http://www.kurzweilai.net/news/frame.html
http://www.gizmag.com/
http://hplusmagazine.com/articles

Related Terms
Neuroprosthetics

Citations/References
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_computer_interface
http://www.gizmag.com/the-first-commercial-brain-computer-interface/8860/
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/brain-computer-interface.htm