Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Engineering Team Explores Power of the Mind; Testing How Mere Thoughts Can Operate Computers and More

01.02.2010
John LaRocco would make M. Night Shyamalan proud.

On any given day, in the heart of a lab in the College of Engineering at Rowan University, LaRocco can be found in front of a computer, electrodes poking out from the black Lycra-like cap that covers his head, Velcroed securely under his chin.

No, the 23-year-old from Washington Township, N.J., is not prepping for suspense director Shyamalan’s next blockbuster: the grad student in electrical and computer engineering actually is at work as part of a team exploring brain/computer interfaces. Simply put — very simply put — he’s working on ways that people can use their minds to power a computer and other technology to complete a variety of actions.

On a recent day, LaRocco used his thoughts to move a ball into a box on the computer screen and to spell out a name. He wasn’t flawless — he had to mentally power the computer to fix a mistake here and there — but in short order he could propel the ball into the box and get the name just right without laying a finger on the keyboard.

Key to his effort was that cap, called an electrode cap, which has 40 electrodes that connect to the skin on his head, a thick layer of gel acting as a conduit and connector between man and device. Equally important was some very intricate data analysis software. Strategically placed, the electrodes produce signals that correspond to parts of the brain that relate to specific functions. The electrodes connect to a 40-channel electroencephalogram (EEG) system that displays the electrical activity of the brain, by picking up signals from the user’s brain and amplifying and relaying those signals to an attached computer.

In short, what a user thinks is encoded in the EEG signals and transferred via electrodes to the EEG equipment to the computer. In LaRocco’s recent demonstration, when he thought of a specific action — in this case squeezing his hands — the ball would move up, and when he thought of another action — kicking his feet — the ball would move down. He’s learned little tricks as he has practiced, such as avoiding blinking and trying not to tighten his jaw since both actions seem to interfere with the brain/computer connection.

LaRocco is working with fellow ECE grad student James Ethridge, 26, of South Philadelphia and Glassboro, N.J., on the project under the guidance of Dr. Robi Polikar, a nationally recognized engineering professor with a long history of exploring the possibilities of the mind, including research on Alzheimer’s disease funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging.

Explained Polikar of his latest project: “The brain/computer interface in general allows you to control a device using your thoughts. The device can be mechanical, like a joystick, computer cursor or keyboard. The moment that you can create a control signal, you can control anything.”

Using thoughts to control the computer involves the subject stimulating a pattern in an EEG signal. For instance, when LaRocco wanted to select a letter in the name he was trying to spell he’d look at a matrix of flashing letters that contains the entire alphabet, and count every time the desired letter flashed. That counting registered in his brain waves and generated a pattern that the team’s data analysis software recognized to represent the letter he wanted to capture.

Rowan is new to the brain/computer field, and it’s a field that is growing. Brain/computer interfaces may have many applications in the future, some which may benefit security and health care. The research may have other applications as well, such as programming a robot to vacuum the den, improving gaming devices and running a smart house.

“There’s no one single end goal, but there are many applications,” said LaRocco, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering and is interested in prosthetic and biofeedback devices. For example, he said, the military could use the system to ensure pilots are properly trained, people dealing with paralysis could use their thoughts to complete tasks such as moving robotic limbs and motorized wheelchairs, and security personnel could employ such a technology as a more accurate lie detector.

LaRocco is focusing on the brain/computer interface for his master’s thesis, exploring whether individuals who use relaxation techniques like tai chi and meditation can better manipulate and control their thoughts than those who do not pursue such techniques.

Ethridge has been focusing on how the system works, providing the technical support. He's interested in working in the field of signal processing and pattern recognition and also hopes to earn his doctorate in engineering.

“It’s a challenging project,” Ethridge said. “I like the fact that I am working on something that can improve the quality of life. The big draw for using the EEG is it’s noninvasive and hence doesn’t require surgery.”

Patricia Quigley | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.rowan.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Cloud technology: Dynamic certificates make cloud service providers more secure
15.01.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht New discovery could improve brain-like memory and computing
10.01.2018 | University of Minnesota

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Let the good tubes roll

19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>