Open Source BCI

How are you controlling the machinery in your facility? Do you have a great little retro set-up with machine languages operating on a DOS platform? Are you using a kiosk on the factory floor, or a user-friendly dashboard on a tablet? Has your smartphone got an app for that?

Al these methods will soon seem completely old hat. The new way is OpenBCI. OpenBCI stands for open-source brain-computer interface (BCI). With this new approach to human-machine communication, you can print out a headset with your 3-D printer, program your machinery to respond to your brainwaves, and just think your commands in the general direction of your drives and controls.

Maybe wink a little.

Most current uses of the BCI are parlor tricks. One user controlled the movement of a shark-shaped balloon by closing his eyes. Others have made a robotic arm move slightly. One team created iPhone apps that could be controlled with winks. Turns out that winking, or just closing your eyes, is particularly good for this type of interface, because your brain really notices when your eyes are closed. Closing your eyes leads to a highly recognizable signal: an increase in the power of oscillations in the alpha band (around 10 Hz) over the visual cortex. It’s relatively easy to program a response to this signal. Compare that with thinking, “Turn left.” The BCI can’t understand language, and it turns out that different people think about turning left in different ways. Getting something to move in response to thought is quite difficult. 

This technology does not, at this point, have the strength or the accuracy needed to control a servo motor and get a printing press moving.

Who knows how far this may go in the future, though? Proof of concept has been completed. Planned practical uses include controlling a wheelchair or a prosthetic arm, and people are already building games with this technology.

The factory floor can’t be far behind.

How you look while wearing the headset and winking is your own problem.


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