March 4, 2010

Mind-Control Coming To A Computer Near You?

The world's largest high-tech fair is the place to go to find out how you can play games or do daily chores all by just using the power of your mind.

At the annual CeBIT fair, crowds gathered around a man sitting at a pinball table, wearing a cap full of electrodes attached to his head. The man controlled flippers with ease without the use of his hands.

Michael Tangermann, of Berlin Brain Computer Interface, told spectators "He thinks: left-hand or right-hand and the electrodes monitor the brain waves associated with that thought, send the information to a computer, which then moves the flippers,"

Although the technology can be used as a fun gadget, there is so much more it could possibly do. Scientists are researching potential ways the technology would be able to monitor brain waves of motorists to help improve reaction times in a crash.

In an emergency where a driver needs to stop quickly, brain activity kicks in around 200 milliseconds before even the most alert driver can hit the brake. Although, scientists are not thinking that the car should automatically brake for the driver, Tangermann said. He did say, however, "there are various things the car can do in that crucial time, tighten the seat belt, for example."

Using the monitoring technology, a car could also tell whether the driver is drowsy or not, potentially keeping the driver safe, by alerting them to take a break.

At another booth, spectators watched a man wearing a similar device as he sat in front of a screen with a large keyboard, with letters flashing in an ordered sequence. The user concentrates on a letter flashing on the screen and the brain waves stimulated at this exact moment are registered by the computer and the letter appears onscreen.

Currently, the technology is slow-going -- it took the man about 4 minutes to write a five-letter word -- but researchers are hoping to perfect the technology in the close future.

Another device showed users controlling robots with their mind. The user concentrates on flashing lights from a small box that has lights on each of four compass points. Depending on which light he concentrates on, the robot will move in that direction.

Scientists say the technology is being perfected for use by persons with disabilities, allowing them to communicate and operate devices with their brain. "In future, people will be able to control wheelchairs, open doors and turn on their televisions with their minds," said Clemens Holzner from g.tec.


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