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Advances in cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging technologies are allowing human brains to interface directly with machines. This technology is made possible through brain-computer interfaces and sensors, which can monitor the physical and neural processes of the human brain, offering the potential to transform the ways in which we perform everyday tasks, and improving the quality of life of patients with physical disabilities.
This technology is known as the brain-computer interface, or mind-machine interface.
So, what exactly are the practical applications for this futuristic new tech, and who are the companies to watch?
Starting in the cradle of high-tech innovation that is Japan, we have the Neurowear team, based in Tokyo. Neurowear is concentrating on the production of consumer products for music and entertainment that respond to the brainwaves of the end user to adjust settings such as music volume, and even turning music on and off.
Neurowear's "Necomimi" consists of a headband with integrated "cats ears," which respond to the neural patterns and brainwaves of the user, effectively showing the level of concentration and basic emotional feelings of the wearer for all to see. Concentration makes the ears stand up, boredom or relaxation makes them lie down, and relaxed concentration makes the ears move and rise gently, allowing speakers to gauge the reception of their audience and the level of involvement and concentration that their listeners are assigning to their speech.
Neurosky in California has adapted EEG and EMG (electroencephalography and electromyography respectively) to transform the brain's analogue waves into digital format, allowing the user to interface mentally with computers, games and experimental medical devices.
Neurosky's wearable biosensor technology incorporates tools such as an "attention" sensor, similar in execution to the Necomimi ears mentioned above, allowing users and observers to interpret the level of focus or calmness of the user. Products currently on the market include the MindWave headset and dongle at under $100, allowing owners of the product to work with various apps that the company produces for the purposes of entertainment, relaxation or mental development.
Emotiv, a Hong Kong-based company with research centres in Australia and the USA among others, has developed the "Insight" headset, to track the cognitive performance of the user. Mobile apps can measure and track focus, attention, interest, affinity and stress levels, allowing researchers, observers and the users themselves to judge their responses to different types of stimulus.
While the above-mentioned products very much indicate the beginning stages of the ultimate journey to full brain-computer interaction and mind-machine control, the applications are almost literally limitless, particularly when you consider the possibilities that this type of technology could open up for people with physical disabilities.
Currently, the available ready-to-market technology is aimed at allowing observers to judge the mental state and level of engagement of the wearer, and allow users to assess their own thought patterns and control small applications neurologically. This achievement should not be overlooked in terms of its potential to improve the quality of life of people with physical disabilities that impair their ability to communicate physically or verbally.
However, ultimately, technology of this type has almost limitless applications for improving the lives of people with physical disabilities by allowing them to interact with and control their own environments, and fully communicate with other people. Venture Radar is keeping a close eye on the movers and shakers within the brain-computer interfacing field, and can help you to connect with the organisations and laboratories at the cutting edge of this futuristic technology.
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