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Emotiv Claims Its Brainwave Scanner Allows People to Control Wheelchairs with Their Minds
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 03, 2014

Emotiv Claims Its Brainwave Scanner Allows People to Control Wheelchairs with Their Minds

By Tony Rizzo
TMCnet Senior Editor

Neuro-technology and brainwave scanning device maker Emotiv is looking for a few good minds. The company is one of a small handful of vendors that focus on brainwave scanning software and hardware. Others include established vendor NeuroSky (News - Alert) and startup Melon.

Emotiv has developed a multi-sensor headband that does a very credible job of scanning and capturing brainwave activity. We won't be diving into the Emotiv technology here – something we will do in the near future.

Rather, our goal here is to take note of what Emotiv is seeking to do in terms of utilizing wearable technology to enhance the lives of people. In the particular case we are interested in today, the company is seeking ways to help wheelchair-bound people who suffer from such diseases as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and have the added burden of not being able to control their arms and hands, so that even pushing buttons on a motorized wheelchair or controlling a joystick becomes impossible.

In some cases, eye scanning technology can be used to help patients with certain types of manipulations. This doesn't only include wheelchair operations, but the ability to operate, say, a laptop as well. One can imagine how difficult it must be to have to use eye movements to make these things happen. For those who can't otherwise do so, the technology is clearly a savior, but perhaps there is a potentially easier way to enable such activity.

Emotiv believes that brainwave scanning is a real solution to the problem, and one that may make a significant difference even to those who have been able to adapt to the use of eye scanning technology. The company has been developing headsets for some time. Even later designs, such as the company's EPOC headset has a bit of a Star Trek Borg element to it we admit, as shown below.

However, the company has continued to evolve those headsets. The good news is that as the headsets become more powerful in their ability to accurately capture brainwaves, Emotiv has also been able to, well, make them a lot less-Borg like, as the image below of their most recent headset design, dubbed Insight, demonstrates.

Emotiv has worked with the disabled community in the past, with a particular focus on those people who are paralyzed from the neck down. Most of the designs that have been developed to date have been developed for the EPOC (the first device shown above).

Back in March 2013, Emotiv first posted instructions on its website for interested parties to build an EPOC-based mind-controlled wheelchair. The goal for the design was to allow the operator to merely think about the wheelchair moving forward, left or right to cause the wheelchair to move. Amazingly then, outside of the ability to capture the mind's desired commands via the headset (the hard part), all that is required is an electric wheelchair, a laptop computer, an interface circuit, the EPOC headset, and some software.

Now that Emotiv has its next generation product in hand, it has decided to host a "designathon" on February 22, 2014 to develop applications that will seek to optimize and effectively use Emotiv's new, more powerful Insight headset (the second shown above). Application developers and engineers will be tasked with developing a wheelchair with advanced functionality for the Insight, which is able to capture more detailed brain activity information.

Emotiv developer relations lead Joyce Golomb notes, “Emotiv’s technology has been utilized to help people with limited mobility regain some control of their surroundings, increase ease of communication and improve overall quality of life. The current designathon will validate feasibility and define the functionality and design of each application."

A few months down the road, following the "design" efforts, Emotiv intends to host an event for developers to actually build the applications that emerge during the design phase of the project.

Below is a video (not of Emotiv) that shows a wheelchair being controlled through brainwave scanning technology. Clearly the ability to do this is possible - the next steps are to refine all of the myriad pieces that need to come together to transform the experiments into true wearable products that indeed change lives.

It follows that if the technology can be used to manipulate a wheelchair then perhaps it can also be used to manipulate a tablet or a laptop. That would seem like a logical next step in capabilities. Samsung (News - Alert) is, in fact, working on exactly this. It will certainly be quite awesome when we eventually get to this stage of wearable tech reality - it is closer than you might think.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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