Author: Ghatalia Pooja
Institution: Molecular Biology
Date: June 2007
Uncertain whether to bubble the "A" or "C" on a multiple choice test, students dig into their pockets to find a coin to toss. But, the new "Brain-Machine Interface" machine can interpret the mixed brain waves in indecisive minds to help make the right choice.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the joint project by Kyoto-based Advanced Telecommunication Research (ATR) Institute International and Honda Research Institute provide an interface between the human mind and a robot.
The fMRI records data on the changes in blood flow connected with neural activity in the motor cortex (part of the brain associated with movements). A machine algorithm analyzes the fMRI data and the decoded data is transmitted to a robot.
For example, imagine that a subject in an fMRI machine forms the rock, paper or scissors with his hand (Rock-paper-scissors is a hand game often played by children to select their teams randomly). Based on the subject's finger movements, when he forms a rock, paper or scissors with his hand, the robot hand reproduces the choice within about seven seconds with 85 percent accuracy.
"A brain-machine interface is only one of the many possible applications of the decoding technique," said cognitive neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani of ATR. "For instance, if you could decode a person's attitude towards a product, you could use that for marketing."
Honda Research Institute's Tatsuhiko Sekiguchi envisions a brain analyzer that would monitor drivers' mental states and warn of drowsiness or inattention.
This technology is potentially applicable to other types of non-invasive brain measurements such as the brain's electric and magnetic fields and brain waves.
- By Pooja Ghatalia.