Interface Design – Brain-Computer Interfacing

In pouring over random interface design ideas, schemes, and notions, the general focus on interface design seems to rest largely in the field of human-computer interfaces. This field is obviously an important one, given the widespread use of personal computers today, and it is a field that – thanks to a few innovative and challenging notions and concepts – I believe will soon undergo some major revolutionary changes that forever alter the way we use computers.

Brain-Computer Interfacing is an emerging concept that allows for computers to process the data and signals emitted by the human brain. Tackled in a few different ways by various experimental groups, the potential for these technologies is enormous. With brain-computer interfacing, we may be able to interact with data and computers simply by issuing commands via thought – and eventually companies like Sony aim to raise BCI to a level with which computers can communicate with the brain in its native language of electrical impulses in such a way that computers can induce sensations in the brain just as it receives commands by thought.

Here are some examples of this innovative new technology:

Washington University’s Neural Systems Group

At Washington University, the Computer Science department has created the Neural Systems Group. In addition to Brain-Computer Interface technologies, this group has also made interesting discoveries and breakthroughs in the realm of robotics. Their non-invasive BCI, pictured below, is an interesting solution to the problem of effectively connecting computers to the human brain.

Neural Systems Group - BCI Headgear

Another very similar product that may see even more widespread use is the OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator. Simply put, it is a headband that picks up on signals from the brain in much the same way that an electrocardiograph monitors the human heart. Of note is its specific target market of gamers – it may be that this sort of technology first sees widespread commercial use in the field of games before it spreads to other (potentially more societally useful) markets.

OCZ's Neural Impulse Actuator in action

Unfortunately, little details are available on this product, though there are some articles providing a cursory glance at what it is expected to look like, and how it is likely to perform:

Bit-Tech: OCZ Controls Games With Your Mind

Gizmodo: OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator Lets You Play Games With Your Mind

Legit Reviews: OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator at CeBIT 2007

BCI Interfaces have been studied in various locations abroad; another University program that has found results similar to Washington University’s Neural Systems Group is Cognitive and Social Systems Group at the Laboratory of Computational Engineering, part of the Helsinki University of Technology. Their feedback and results are somewhat similar to the other products mentioned (current BCI products seem somewhat limited as far as the scope and accuracy of their interpretation of signals), but of particular note is the combination of BCI interfaces with haptic feedback to present the user not only the freedom to think their commands, but also physical tactile feedback.

CSS Group, Helsinki University of Technology

One final group that has achieved a similar device from a physical and functional standpoint is the Ushida & Tomita Laboratory. Their BCI appears very similar to the other similar products listed above, but is different in its application. Though the site for the Ushida & Tomita Laboratory is not in English, it does provide videos showcasing their BCI being utilized to enable players of the online game Second Life to control their virtual avatars using the BCI. According to the descriptions on this site, it works by enabling the user to imagine moving their legs to walk forward or backward, while thinking about moving their arms enables moving to the right or left, while the research time is hard at work in developing other functions and movements.

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~ by kevinappel on December 13, 2007.

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