Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Mind Power

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Mind Power

Article excerpt


Researchers at California State niversity-Northridge and UCLAlive View Medical Center are developing a powerful new machine that uses brain-interface technology to help those with physical disabilities.

The product, a motorized wheelchair that can be navigated with a user's brainwaves, is not yet market-ready. The technology, however, has the potential to provide a new degree of freedom to disabled users.

Brain-computer interface, or BCI, already was being used for a variety of purposes. Gamers have long been familiar with BCI headsets, for example, which allow them to navigate virtual universes.

C.T. Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering at CSUN, wanted to see if BCI could be used to assist paraplegics or other users who had lost the use of their limbs.

"I thought, 'Well, why not take the existing available device and explore the possibility of whether that device can be used for any engineering application?'"

The project began in earnest in August of 2010. Lin, and his team, which includes undergraduates as well as graduate students, developed a wheelchair equipped with a laser sensor, a laptop computer and a headset. Electrodes on the headset are able to absorb brainwaves, which are then translated into "motion commands" such as left, right, forward, or backward.

The wheelchair can operate in an autonomous mode in which the computer makes navigating decisions or in a hybrid mode where the user gives commands.

Lin says that the real challenge going forward will be trying to marry human behavior, which is often erratic and unpredictable, with the neat and often unyielding precision of computers.

"The difficulty really comes with the fact that the human is involved," says Lin. "And humans are not consistent."

BCI technology, by its very nature, requires the brain and the computer to interact; therefore, the two may clash, producing widely divergent results.


"If you are turning a corner," explains Lin, "and you generate the thoughts too early or too late, you will have a turn that is going to become awkward."

Certain users with cognitive disabilities also may have difficulty maneuvering the device, he says. …

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