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Self-Paced Brain-Computer Interface Gets Closer to Reality

January 22, 2008 | Chris Payatagool
physorglogo.gifUsing the human mind to control computers could lead to a wide range of applications, such as giving people with limited motion the ability to operate machines. However, translating thoughts into actions is a great challenge for researchers. How can a system determine which thoughts should be acted upon, and which thoughts are merely personal thoughts and therefore should be ignored by the system?

More importantly, asks Dr. Mehrdad Fatourechi, can the system provide the users with the ability to control a computer whenever they want? These are the questions that Fatourechi and other "self-paced" brain computer interface (BCI) researchers are trying to answer.

So far, no self-paced BCI system has performed well enough to be suitable for practical applications. But Fatourechi, along with Professors Dr. Rabab K. Ward and Dr. Gary E. Birch from the University of British Columbia, Canada, have recently made a significant improvement with the development of a self-paced, fully automated brain-computer interface. The group's results are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.

To test the abilities of a self-paced BCI, researchers often ask volunteers to perform a specific mental activity, such as to attempt to move their right index finger. The system then tries to detect the changes in the brain signals related to this mental activity (called neurological phenomenon) and map them into a control command for the device.

To researchers, confronting this problem means striving for a low false positive rate (when the system accidentally performs an action that the user did not intend) combined with a high true positive rate (when the system accurately identifies and acts upon a user's mental commands). Researchers generally consider a true-positive rate of 70% to be acceptable for realistic situations. The false positive rate should ideally be zero, since a system that acts spontaneously would be very frustrating to users.

[via Physorg.com]






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