Brain computer interface (BCI) is a mind-machine interface that establishes a straight communication pathway between the human brain and a machine. A BCI allows control of external devices with regulation of brain activity and helps gain information about the cognitive state. In the 1970s, the University of California started research on BCI with funding from the National Science Foundation.
Uses of BCI
BCI helps capture brain signals through the use of computers or an external device. Brain Computer Interface technology is increasingly becoming popular as a communication system to monitor activity of the brain and translate certain characteristics relating to the person’s intentions into commands, helping them control or operate the device with their thoughts. BCI systems are thus claimed to be highly useful for individuals who are dependent on others due to severe disability or advanced age, thus opening up a new communication channel for them.
According to University of Washington researchers, small electrodes either placed on or inside the brain allow individuals to interact with computers merely by thinking how to execute an action. Researchers claims that Brain Computer Interface technology could play a defining role in improving communication and the quality of life of a paralyzed person or someone disabled from a neurodegenerative disease. When humans use BCI, the brain behaves just like it does when completing simple motor skills.
The surprising fact is that while only a localized population of cells is involved in BCI, the brain utilizes many other areas for the task.
- BCIs can efficiently detect even the minutest changes in brain signals.
- BCIs do not interpret or communicate thoughts.
- BCIs are increasingly being seen as assistive technology solutions for disabled people and those with limited motor skills.
The focus of Brain computer interface technology has now also shifted to other activities, such as automating sailboats, controlling video games, robotics, and military tasks.
Types of BCI
There are two types of BCIs – invasive and non-invasive.
While invasive BCI’s use activity recorded by micro or macro electrodes implanted in the brain, non-invasive BCIs use brain signals that have been recorded with sensors in an external device. A more invasive alternative is to surgically place electrodes inside the brain tissue itself to record the activity of individual neurons. The University of Pittsburgh and Brown University researchers assert that several human subjects, who were not able to even make slight movement with their arms or legs, can control robotic arms with thoughts or brain signals.
BCI technology allows a person to control an external device with thought with the help of electroencephalography (EEG). The human subject and BCI work together, wherein the former generates brain signals encoding intention, while the latter decodes these signals, translating them into commands that accomplish the former’s intention.
BCIs should not be seen as treatment for the disease, and they do not impact health of an individual in any way. Nevertheless, as an assistive technology, BCI has the potential to make a significant difference in the quality of life of people with limited motor skills. Research in the field has been under way for over three decades.
Beyond doubt, when brain computer interface technology becomes a common symptom management device, disabled persons or those with limited mobility are more likely to experience greater physical independence and better quality of life.