Practical thought-controlled devices, such as wheelchairs, artificial arms, or even cars, are perhaps a step closer to reality thanks to research being carried out at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
Traditionally, brain-computer interfaces require the user to concentrate on constantly maintaining a mental command of either turn left, turn right, or no-command (go straight). According to EPFL, most users can’t sustain more than about an hour of the necessary mental effort. The school is developing a new system, however, that allows users to take breaks and shift their attention to other things while their thought-controlled device continues to operate on its own.
Like other brain-computer interfaces, EPFL‘s system utilizes EEG readings obtained from a network of sensors on the user’s scalp. What makes it different is that it uses statistical analysis – or probability theory – when processing those readings, allowing it to learn what the user expects of it. When combined with a Shared Control system, which uses cameras and sensors to augment the thought-control system, it can do things like avoiding obstacles or continuing on in a straight line, without constant mental updates from the user.