Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Future of AT: Brain-Controlled Devices

A while back, I heard about the Emotiv EPOC, a $300 device that promised to allow the user to use thoughts and emotions to control a video game. At the time, it had not been released yet. I saw a reference to it in another blog today, and so now that it's been out for a few months, I thought I'd check in on this amazing invention, and particularly see whether this technology could be used for more than just gaming; it certainly has the potential for opening up new possibilites for persons with disabilities.

The product's "Community" page has a couple of discussion forum entries that address the use of the EPOC for persons with disabilites. On the topic of whether it can be used to control a wheelchair, Emotiv's Research Manager had this to say:
All mental detection systems suffer from a finite rate of false positive and false negative detections. In other words, sometimes a detection can occur without the user's deliberate intention, and sometimes a deliberate attempt to make an action occur may fail or select a different output. This is as much to do with the user's level of training and state of mind as it is to do with the detection systems - it is unavoidable in any BCI system. Any critical function controlled by the EPOC must have an independent kill operation which the user can reliably invoke, and must put the system in a safe state.
Regarding using the device for typing, he said, "Mental typing is definitely achievable."

But what I found very interesting was at the end of his post. I was really only looking for very practical applications of the technology, like communication, mobility, or environmental control, but his comment made me rethink the importance of this technology in the realm of its intended use -- gaming -- for disabled persons.
He writes:
I have seen some very heartening things already. People who have been severely injured and have basically lost interest in life, upon using the EPOC for simple mental gameplay, rapidly develop a passionate interest in playing with the EPOC and achieve radical improvements in their mental state and also in some cases their physical state. Users may inherently exercise neck muscles to control the gyro or to watch the game better, or they can gradually restore some control to facial expressions through repeated use as in-game commands. 
The EPOC can also put paralysed users on an equal footing with able-bodied gamers in some settings, such as games based on mental duels and so on. 
Most of all, EPOC is fun to use and very engaging to learn, and everyone should have some fun in their lives. As time rolls by there will be more and more applications such as neurofeedback and meditation training, where users can learn new skills.
If you're interested in digging deeper into the discussion, I would recommend you first read about the different Emotiv modules used in the software, Expressiv, Affectiv, and Cognitiv, by clicking here; then you can better follow the full discussion in the disabilities thread and read about a customer's experience using the EPOC with his cousin who suffers from CP. How do you envision this technology being used for persons with physical or communication disabilities? Leave your thoughts in the Comments.

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