The New York Times published an article yesterday about the iBrain, a portable EEG device meant to record electricity in the brain. Using algorithms developed by Dr. Philip Low, the device could be able to decipher messages from the brain without any movement or speech required. Low is the CEO of NeuroVigil, Inc., the company developing the iBrain.
The Times quotes Low as saying, "The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person's own bed, or when they're watching TV, or doing just about anything."
What makes the story compelling is that Low tested the iBrain out on Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world's most famous physicist. Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - Lou Gehrig's disease. Low placed the device, which resembles an odd skull cap, onto Hawking's head and was able to measure electrical brain signals. Low said the test is for Hawking to create repeatable electrical patterns with his mind that Low's algorithms can then translate into words or commands.
Neurovigil's website calls the iBrain cutting-edge. Other devices to measure EEG signals from the brain exist, but most are marketed for home consumers to record their sleep patterns. The iBrain is being developed specifically with the goal of helping make medical diagnoses and helping patients with neurodegenerative conditions. Neurovigil claims the device will be useful in diagnosing sleep-related conditions and also diseases of the Central Nervous System such as Alzheimer's, Schizophernia, and Parkinson's.
It's good to see that Low has aspirations beyond marketing his product to people obsessive about their sleep patterns. I can't wait for a future in which ALS patients will zip around in futuristic wheelchairs and speak with digitized voices taken directly from their brains. For now, though, I'll settle for silly cat ears:
(photo courtesy Doug Wheller)