Technology enables the human brain to connect directly to any device, including a computer.
Elon Musk is about to introduce a neuro implant that will allow people to control any device, including a computer, directly, bypassing the keyboard, joystick or voice control. However, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX is unlikely to become a pioneer in this niche – BCI systems that enable its users to interact with computers by means of brain activity, also known as neural interfaces, are already conquering world markets. The BIXXI neural interface developed by Edward Kryzhanovsky’s Telebiomet company is already on sale in Russia, and available to anyone. The device is not just for fun and convenience – although indeed, video gamers will be happy to play without using joysticks or keyboards. Much more importantly, the solution can be used for complex medical examinations and memory training and can help one retain clarity and flexibility of thinking for a long time – something global companies have already appreciated.
The device is based on a brain imaging technology called near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS. Telebiomet is actually the first developer in Russia to begin using it in a neural interface. This made the device safer and suitable for using as frequently as one likes – something laser-based solutions are not.
The device resembles a headband with LED and photodiode sensors of different wavelengths. It is connected to a computer or a smart phone via Bluetooth or WiFi. Using LEDs, the device emits infrared light onto the user’s head and then captures reflected photons. This method can be used to assess brain oxygenation levels, or how cerebral vessels are saturated with oxygen. This indicator is one of the most significant parameters for analyzing the activity of specific lobes. Additionally, the device measures the time series of emitted intensity at used frequencies.
The neural interface allows solving a rather wide range of tasks. The company’s initial goal was to create a multi-purpose device, Edward Kryzhanovsky explains, and it appears that they succeeded. Some of the applications include diagnostics of brain disorders that are becoming increasingly more common. According to the WHO, almost 1 bln people in the world suffer from a neurological disorder, with about 6.8 mio dying every year. The device promises to make life easier for many of them – for example, in epileptic patients (50 mio in the world) it can monitor dynamic changes in the cerebral lobes during recovery, which helps to plan treatment more accurately. During brain surgeries, neurosurgeons will be able to more precisely target relevant segments of brain responsible for specific functions.
But its use can be much wider: the device can assess the level of wakefulness (high-frequency brain activity), as well as the brain’s capability to adapt. Medical personnel can use it during epidemics because it shows the readiness of the system to counteract the disease. It can also be used to assess the ability to handle stress, which is important for almost all companies that rely on human factor. For instance, Telebiomet is holding talks with one of the key producers on the possible use of the device for pilots, and with a brewery to use it for forklift operators. The company also plans a major study with the National League of Translators (simultaneous interpreters are usually under a lot of stress).
Studies showed specific wave processes in chess players; these processes can predict who will win the match.
But most importantly, the neural interface will help people learn to control their psychological and emotional state by alternating between brain activation and relaxation. It looks like a computer game when the user can see the change of emotions on their computer of smartphone display. While playing, one can improve their resilience to stress.
“Our initial aims was to create a multifunction device, which could be used even as a computer mouse. At the same time, it allows you to train your brain and increase stress resilience. When you use this device no-one is going to tell you that it is a waste of time as you will be constantly making progress,” Edward Kryzhanovsky says.
Telebiomet has already created two neural interface generations. The first one is primarily targeted at researchers and meets their needs; such device is used at the Bekhtereva Institute of Human Brain of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Fans of smart gadgets as well as all those wishing to buy them can purchase the BIXXI mobile brain-computer interface. A set of five games has been already released for the device, which allows playing soccer or manage a butterfly’s flight by using a BCI control – all you have to do is attach the gadget to your head and launch the app on your computer or a smartphone.
The company’s plans include developing the third generation of the device with a larger number of censors, which will allow assessing risks of cerebrovascular diseases, particularly a stroke, in users.
“You just have to attach the device to your head to learn about any risks of developing a cerebrovascular disease. The device will also provide specific information on whether there is a cerebral vessel dysfunction, and track it by measuring the blood supply and blood oxygen levels – which will allow a user to take prompt measures to prevent a stroke,” Edward Kryzhanovsky concludes.