Saturday, July 4, 2009

Toyota Develops Brainwave Technology To Control Wheelchair

Automotive giant, Toyota, and the Japanese research foundation have created a revolutionary new device that will most likely change the lives of paraplegics forever. It involves a wheelchair that is steered by - wait for it - mind control. No levers or buttons to push, just your thoughts steering the device where you want it to go.

The application of this new technology is made possible by EEG (Electro-encephalogram) signals, and this application is also said to be one of the first practical uses of the technology.

This is how it works: An EEG detector, a cheek puff detector and a display that assists with control is fitted to the wheelchair. The EEG detector is in the form of a electrode array skull cap that fits onto the person's head while in the wheelchair. By simply thinking about the direction of the movement, the electrodes detect the brain signals and then respond by turning left or right and moving in the desired direction.

Now, the system has a reported accuracy rate of about 95 percent, which means a secondary safety device is needed. This is where the cheek safety puff comes into play. If something goes wrong, the person simply puffs his cheek, and a sensor then detects the movement and tells the device to stop completely.

The existence of EEG was discovered well over a hundred years ago, but it is only now recently that there seems to be an interest to develop practical uses for the phenomenon.

In March 2009, Honda also created and tested a BMI, essentially allowing a person to control an Asimo robot using only their thoughts through EEG.One of the biggest challenges to detecting these EEG signals, is that the signals can only be measured in micro-volts on the surface of a person's skull.

This means the measuring equipment needs to be ultra-sensitive, and also have the ability to filter out external and irrelevant noise signals created by other movements. The actual EEG signals are also incredibly difficult to interpret in itself, because they are intermingled with signals of billions of other brain cells working together.

Toyota and RIKEN have managed to refine the analysis algorithms, noise elimination and signal processing in such a way that the system can now detect and interpret these signals at a 95% accuracy rate. They have also managed to get the processing response time down to 125 milliseconds (or 1/8th of a second) giving the device real-time control.

Currently, there are no plans to commercialize the technology, although a wide range of posssiblities exist in which to apply these types of systems.


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