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Use mind control to run your appliances

08 Aug 2014  | R. Colin Johnson

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Royal Philips NV and Accenture plc dreamed of giving paralysed patients more independence by using their brain waves to control household items. The companies turned this into a reality with a thin, three-prong brain-wave monitor.

Called "Emotiv Insight Brainware," the device gives some control back to people with neuro-degenerative diseases, with which more than 400,000 people are afflicted each year. The trials were successfully tested on volunteers representing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease) patients for the proof-of-concept demonstration.

Philips and Accenture collaborated to create the software to interact with the Emotiv Insight Brainware and the wearable display. Fjord Ltd., a Helsinki design consultancy owned by Accenture Interactive, designed the display's user interface.


Figure 1: More Star Trek than Flash Dance: A brain-wave monitor with three electrodes may look like an 80s headband but could be a life saver for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. The headband enables the wearer to use brain waves to complete household tasks. (Source: Philips)

"Our goal was to make a brain scanner that helped patients with limited mobility control their environment and gain more independence," Brent Blum, Wearable Display R&D lead at Accenture's Technology Labs in San Jose, Calif., told EE Times. "At first it seemed a crazy idea, but over time we began to find this possibility was very real, and that it would provide patients the opportunity to regain much of their household independence, such as by turning lights [on] and off, turning on the TV, changing channels, sending text messages, and generally regaining something that resembled their old life."

Accenture was the system integrator and designed from the ground-up a system with low latency, high bandwidth, and a conceptual separation between each of the controllers so that new functions could be added modularly, such as a unit that calls 911 in the event that the patient feels he is having a heart attack. Accenture claims to have integrated all these devices into something that can easily be modified and expanded for both medical and consumer applications in the future.


Figure 2: Philips has crafted a space-age-looking brain-wave monitor with three electrodes that enables control of household items for sufferers of ALS. (Source: Philips)

"From Philips' perspective, the opportunity to show what you can do with these connected technologies has made this proof-of-concept successful," Anthony Jones, M.D., VP, and CMO for Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions, told us. "There are many other systems out there that depend on some sort of movement by the patients, and we can accommodate eye movement and voice, too. But ours is unique in that it can depend entirely on using brain waves."


Figure 3: Philips's brain-wave monitor with three electrodes enables the user to control household items through brain waves. (Source: Philips)

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