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
Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions
21.10.2016 | Stanford University
New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality
19.10.2016 | University of Waterloo
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences