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Brain control

Photo: Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics, University of Malta

Photo: Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics, University of Malta

It may seem more at home in the realms of a sci-fi movie, however the ability to control objects with your mind may be closer to reality than you think.

Dr Tracey Camilleri, co-ordinator of the BrainApp project, and her team are working to make science fiction reality. Their goal is for movement-impaired individuals to be able to control computers or machines using only their brain signals, and they’ve already made it happen.

Communication between the brain and device is key. Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology can make this happen. Brain cells communicate using small electrical pulses and the rate of these pulses depends on our world experiences. A BCI deciphers these pulses to determine what the user intended to do and sends a message to the device.

For this to work, a person must wear a headset with electrodes touching their head that can pick up brain signals. Using a headset and Walnut, a brain-controlled music player app, people could choose a song from a list, control the volume and pause or skip the song.

The overall goal, though, is somewhat more ambitious. The team want to apply this technology to a motorised bed. They want to enable those with limited mobility to control the functions of their bed using only brain signals and live a more independent life.

The goal, however, is not without its challenges. The BCIs have worked in a lab environment, but the real world has too many distractions that can affect our brain signals. Camilleri and her team are investigating the effect of these distractions.

The project already has the support of the Malta Council for Science & Technology, as well as Karen Grech Hospital and the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility. And it is not difficult to see why – the impact this technology could have on the lives of those with restricted mobility really is limitless.

This story was first published in THINK (issue 24), the University of Malta’s research magazine. For the full article, go to www.um.edu.mt/think/brain-control/

Did you know?

• Each time you see a full moon you always see the same side.

• A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.

• Eight per cent of people have an extra rib.

• Your tongue is the fastest healing part of your body.

For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• At around 600BC Thales of Miletus suggested that dry land forms when dirt piles up underwater, similar to the silting he had observed in the river Nile. He is regarded as the first individual in Western civilisation to use observational evidence to reach a reliable conclusion, a tool used nowadays in the scientific method. Come to Science in the City on September 28 for more.

http://scienceinthecity.org.mt/event/science-show-and-theatre

• In 1962, an Alemannic burial site (Early Middle Ages) containing human skeletal remains was discovered in Niederstotzingen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany). Researchers have now examined the DNA of these skeletal remains showing that they had Mediterranean and northern European roots. One skeleton was a female warrior.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180905184821.htm

For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta every Saturday at 11.05am.

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