Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation


Brain To Computer, A New Realm Of Possibilities 

Mind Over Matter - The Way Of The Future 

Brain To Computer, A New Realm Of Possibilities
First Published: Investigator - February 2008

Exciting technology that could help users move a wheelchair or a cursor on a computer screen with a thought is currently under investigation at Flinders University and Flinders Medical Centre (FMC).

Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology is a new area of research that has grown dramatically in the last five years.

A BCI is a computer program that measures thought patterns and translates them into actions, bypassing the peripheral nervous system.

The Flinders BCI project is a result of Sean Fitzgibbon’s PhD thesis, led by Professor Richard Clark and Associate Professor David Powers. The system measures brainwaves using electroencephalography (EEG) and identifies patterns that reflect specific thoughts, such as the intention to move a cursor.

“At this stage our research is focused on using pre-recorded EEG data from participants to trial the system offline,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “This means collecting brain activity from a number of people and teaching the BCI to identify the relevant thought patterns.”

Simple BCI’s are currently on the market for clinical use, but the user must learn pre-defined rules to make these systems work.

The Flinders BCI is a more sophisticated system that learns from the user and adapts to each user’s specific patterns of brain activity.

In order for this system to work it must be able to interpret ‘background thoughts’ from those that make the BCI act. The Flinders BCI has a unique algorithm that identifies and discards irrelevant thought patterns to create the correct actions.

To date, the offline performance of the system has been very good. The next step will be to take the system online, with participants using it to move a cursor on a computer screen and drive a wheelchair.

BCI technology will create new ways for society to interact and communicate. But for those with disabilities, such as locked in syndrome and quadriplegic’s where the brain is still healthy but the body no longer works as it should, BCI’s will make a world of difference in quality of life.

Mind Over Matter - The Way Of The Future
First Published: Investigator - October 2003

Imagine being able to make a wheelchair move forward just by thinking about it?

That is what Flinders researchers are hoping to achieve as they develop technology that uses brain waves to identify specific patterns of thinking and control external devices.

The research team from the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory in the School of Psychology have been working with the Artificial Intelligence Group in the School of Informatics and Engineering on a program called a brain computer interface that provides a way to connect the brain to a computer.

Cognitive neuroscience student Sean Fitzgibbon, who is using this research project as his PhD, said that the role of a brain computer interface is to identify relevant brain waves amongst the large amount of activity in the brain.

"Different thoughts generate different patterns of brainwaves. If we can find the relevant patterns and reliably identify them, then we are in a position where we can control a wheelchair, for instance, make it move forward just by thinking about it. The brain computer interface is essentially a pattern matching device," said Sean.

Brain waves are recorded from the scalp using an electrode cap, similar to a swimming cap, with 128 recording electrodes embedded in it. The signals are fed into a computer and a program (brain computer interface) analyses the brainwaves as they occur. The program looks for specific patterns of brain waves associated with the thoughts of controlling some sort of device, such as a wheelchair.

"Ultimately, we would like to be able use the brain computer interface to control prosthetic limbs but this is long way down the track. Fine brain control is certainly something we are working towards but until then, we are hoping to have a useful device within the next couple of years." he said.

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