What can a BCI be used for?
Speller Programs are especially useful for people in the locked in state, meaning for people who are in a coma. Furthermore they can allow paralyzed people to communicate again.
As an example I will introduce the P300 speller. Another example would be the Hex-o-Spell from Blakertz et al.
The website of the company describes this as following:
“The P300 paradigm presents e.g. 36 letters in a 6 x 6 matrix on the computer monitor. Each letter is flashing up in a random order and the subject has to be concentrated on the letter it wants to write. As soon as the corresponding letter is flashing up a P300 component is produced inside the brain. The algorithms are analyzing the EEG data and select the letter with the highest P300 component. Then this letter is written onto the screen. Normally between 2-20 flashes per letter are required to achieve a high accuracy. The number is dependent on the electrode position used, the training level of the subject and the individual height of the P300 response of the subject.”
2. Prosthetic Control
If you pick up signals with a Brain Computer Interface you can use a special signal for a special command to control something. This is useful for medical uses, for example if you are controlling Prosthetic devices. Therefore it is for example possible to use the “thought” of lifting your right leg up, even without actually executing this thought, as an indicator for commanding a robotic device.
This helps for example people who can not walk anymore – the Mc Master University (and others) developed a wheelchair that is controlled by your mind. If you are for example thinking of lifting your right leg, the BCI picks up this signal and uses it as a command for the wheelchair, to let it drive straight for example.
It even goes further than this. The same is possible in the other direction: To transmit a signal from an electronic device to the brain. It is used for example in prosthetic arms that allow people to feel again. Yes, you have heard right, it is picking up signals from sensors in the artificial fingers and sends them to the nerves that are still working to simulate the sensation of feeling again. This is shown in the following video:
3. Home Automation
As the title says BCI can of course be used in the home environment too. How nice would it be to just think “A Coffee would be nice!” and your coffee machine automatically starts brewing – the perfect sunday morning!
An example for further research would be the brain project of the IGUI.
4. Operator Monitoring
Another use for the Brain Computer Interface is to monitor operators of machines. This can be yourself driving the car, operators of heavy machines or pilots. On a basic level the BCI can check for the level of attention that is paid or if those operators are tired.
In more complex versions it can check for intentions of the operator and act according to it. Examples would be to scan for a braking intent or lane-change intent in normal cars. This could work for example like this: The BCI picks up a signal that indicates that the driver wants to change the lane. According to this the sensors of the car check the backside in the matching direction for cars that might take over and prevent the driver from changing lanes if it is dangerous. This is just an example, but I guess you can imagine in how far this technology can be useful for monitoring operators.
Many people are still trying to use the Brain Computer Interface for forensics.
Example 1: Lie Detection using Emotiv BCI
This project uses an EEG to record Brain activity. As a preceding step the subject connected to the BCI is asked several “normal” questions and that EEG data is averaged and used as a “neutral” reference point. After that the subject is asked the questions that are from interest. If the EEG data from that recording show a big difference from the “neutral” reference point the answer to that question might be a lie. Of course this is not that easy and still researched, but for further information you can follow this Link to get to a project that is dealing with this topic.
Example 2: Brain Fingerprinting:
In their paper “The Truth Will Out: Interrogative Polygraphy (“Lie Detection”) With Event-Related Brain Potentials.” Farwell and Donchin have the hypothesis that the human brain processes unknown information in a different way than known information. This fact is used to check, for example, if a criminal has seen a picture of a crime scene or not.
And of course it can be used as an Entertainment.
Mattel for example published a device called “MindFlex” where you have to navigate a ball through various obstacles. The height of the ball is controlled by the strength of a fan, which blows stronger if your concentration level is high.
Example 1: Sleep Stage Recognition (ZEO)
The ZEO device is used to track on your sleep data, showing you when you have had your dream-phases or if you were awake in the night. It can be used to treat sleep problems. It is furthermore excellent to learn the EEG Basics, I have got one device myself that I am writing code for, to play for example Pong with your mind, but I will show you later!
Example 2: Neurorehabilitation, BackHome TU Graz
BackHome is a project of the TU Graz that deals with the physical and mental rehabilitation of people with severe disabilities.
Link to the projects website
Maybe the strangest example in the row, but still interesting:
Necomimi BCI produced a device that show other people your current mood. It is called Neurowear. It is basically an Alice band with ears that are positioned matching your current mood. But I guess it is easier to just watch the video to understand how it works: