Mind-reading computers turn heads at high-tech fair

Mar 04, 2010 by Richard Carter
An exhibitor plays on a flipper machine, using an EEG to measure neurons in the brain at the CeBIT fair in Hanover. Devices allowing people to write letters or play pinball using just the power of their brains have become a major draw at the world's biggest high-tech fair.

Devices allowing people to write letters or play pinball using just the power of their brains have become a major draw at the world's biggest high-tech fair.

Huge crowds at the CeBIT fair gathered round a man sitting at a pinball table, wearing a cap covered in electrodes attached to his head, who controlled the flippers with great proficiency without using hands.

"He thinks: left-hand or right-hand and the electrodes monitor the associated with that thought, send the information to a computer, which then moves the flippers," said Michael Tangermann, from the Berlin .

But the technology is much more than a fun gadget, it could one day save your life.

Scientists are researching ways to monitor motorists' brain waves to improve reaction times in a crash.

In an emergency stop situation, the kicks in on average around 200 milliseconds before even an alert driver can hit the brake.

There is no question of braking automatically for a driver -- "we would never take away that kind of control," said Tangermann.

"However, there are various things the car can do in that crucial time, tighten the seat belt, for example," he added.

Using this brain-wave monitoring technology, a car can also tell whether the driver is drowsy or not, potentially warning him or her to take a break.

At the g.tec stall, visitors watched a man with a similar " cap" sat in front of a screen with a large keyboard, with the letters flashing in an ordered sequence.

The user concentrates hard when the chosen letter flashes and the brain waves stimulated at this exact moment are registered by the computer and the letter appears on the screen.

The technology takes a long time at present -- it took the man around four minutes to write a five-lettered word -- but researchers hope to speed it up in the near future.

Another device allows users to control robots by . The small box has lights flashing at different frequencies at the four points of the compass.

The user concentrates on the corresponding light, depending on whether he wants the robot to move up, down, left or right and the brainwaves generated by viewing that frequency are monitored and the robot is controlled.

The technology is being perfected for physically disabled people, who can communicate and operate other devices using 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.

The runs until Saturday.

Explore further: For Google's self-driving cars, learning to deal with the bizarre is essential

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Simonsez
4.8 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2010
My friends, we truly live in "the future." These are the technologies our parents and grandparents heard about on the radio or read in magazines or comics in their youth. I, for one, am excited to have been born into this era of transition from which those of us who share this time have gained a unique perspective on the path taken and the path forward for earthly (human) civilization. These next couple of decades shall truly be a new Golden Age of Technology.
droid001
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2010
There is no question of braking automatically for a driver -- "we would never take away that kind of control," said Tangermann.
He's terribly wrong
trekgeek1
not rated yet Mar 04, 2010
Interesting, we'll have to tell our grand kids about when computers had keyboards and mice. Not to mention gaming, it would be awesome to instantly understand the control scheme of any game. The commands could become more complex than a remote could efficiently convey.

And using them in the car is a novel idea. The cars computer and your brain become a simple networked unit (though only one way communication). Using the driver as another sensor in the car. Using superior human image recognition to detect impending crashes or even pedestrians. I'm getting tech chills just thinking about it!
poof
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2010
"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."

But you still wont need your mind to watch television, right?
Buyck
Mar 05, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
visual
not rated yet Mar 05, 2010
Funny how most only see the trivial application for this - games, cars or other machines, prosthetics - all cool but not revolutionary.
Why can't no one see the new level of communicating between ourselves this might unlock? We call it brain-computer interface, but eventually we'll see it can be brain-computer-brain. Artificial telepathy.

Depending on the level of computer processing this could mean any number of things. At first it might be simply like having a built-in cellphone in your head, allowing only speech or even text-based communication, so nothing too ground-breaking.
But with a lower level, raw connection we might soon find ourselves able to communicate emotions and feelings, actual or imagined sensory input, memories, ideas, raw thoughts.
Or we'll find balance somewhere in the middle. It is quite unpredictable.

But communication is the key to learning to think. Improving that might mean a new level of intelligence for the next generations. A new step of human evolution
bottomlesssoul
not rated yet Mar 07, 2010
I'm waiting for the day this becomes an affordable open standard. That will reliably move this cool product space forward at the speed of thought :-)

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