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Hitachi develops thought-powered remote control

The prototype thought powered remote control is a brain machine interface, translating the user's thoughts for controlling electronic devices like televisions.

25 June, 2007

Here is good news (or, bad?) for couch potatoes.

A new technology developed in Japan could let one control electronic devices simply by reading brain activity.

The so-called Ďbrain-machine interfaceí developed by Hitachiís Advanced Research Laboratory analyses slight changes in the brainís blood flow and translates brain motion into electric signals.

A researcher at Hitachiís Advanced Research Laboratory, outside Tokyo, recently demonstrated before journalists the invention using a toy train, reports Associated Press.

One needs to wear a cap to operate the unit. The cap is hooked up by optical fibres to a mapping device, which links, in turn, to a toy train set via a control computer and motor.

Kei Utsugi, a researcher, asked a reporter to do some simple calculations in her head, and the train moved forward Ė apparently indicating activity in the brainís frontal cortex, which handles problem-solving. Activating that region of the brain Ė by doing sums or singing a song Ė is what makes the train run, according to Utsugi.

When one stops the calculations, the train stops.

Hitachiís brain-machine interface technology is based on optical topography, which sends infrared light through the brainís surface to map out changes in blood flow.

Though the brain-machine interface technology has traditionally focused on medical uses, makers like Hitachi and Japanese automaker Honda Motor have been striving to refine the technology for commercial application.

Based on the technology, scientists are set to develop a brain TV remote controller, which would let users turn a television on and off or switch channels by only thinking.

The technology could one day replace remote controls and keyboards and perhaps help disabled people operate electric wheelchairs, beds or artificial limbs.

A key advantage of Hitachiís technology is that sensors do not have to enter the brain physically.

Earlier technologies developed by companies in the United States like Neural Signals Incorporated required implanting a chip under the skull.

However, major obstacles remain. Size is one issue, though Hitachi has developed a prototype compact headband and mapping machine that together weigh only about 1 kilogram. Another would be to tweak the interface to more accurately pick up on the correct signals while ignoring background brain activity.





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