BGU may help disabled use computers with thoughts

Researchers announce their application of a unique computer pointing device, or mouse/keyboard replacement, to operate one’s computer.

BGU researchers 311 (photo credit: Dan Machlis)
BGU researchers 311
(photo credit: Dan Machlis)
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers announced on Sunday their application of a unique computer pointing device, or mouse/keyboard replacement, to operate one’s computer.
The student team, Ori Ossmy, Ofir Tam and Ariel Rozen, developed the application last year for their bachelor’s degree project under the supervision BGU software engineers Prof. Mark Last, Dr. Rami Puzis, Prof. Yuval Alovitz and Dr. Lior Rokah.
The development was announced only now that the university team applied for a patent for the application, which could make life much easier for disabled, even severely disabled such as Cambridge University theoretical physicist Prof. Stephen Hawking, who is totally paralyzed by amytrophic lateral sclerosis and can very slowly express his thoughts by batting his eyelids at a device that recognizes his movements and turns them into letters.
Ten days ago, The Jerusalem Post reported an application of the Australian company Emotiv Systems to enable people to drive merely by using their brain.
With the BGU application of the Emotiv device, which was developed for sophisticated computer gaming rather than the disabled, Hawking could make just three different facial movements such as a smile or think three different thoughts, which would be mapped electronically and allow him to operate his computer quicker to perform many tasks by zooming in, zooming out and selecting what he wished.
Emotiv Systems is an eight-year-old electronics company that has developed brain-computer interfaces based on electroencephalography (EEG) technology. The EPOC, their gaming peripheral, can be purchased on their official website for $299. The Post described from a lecture at the Jerusalem College of Technology an application to drive a vehicle (right, left, forward, backward and stop) just thinking of doing so while wearing an EEG cap on one’s head that contains 14 electrodes to sense brain activity.
Puzis told the Post that his team’s application was preferable to batting eyelids but at this early stage still would not replace the computer mouse or keyboard to operate a computer, as it was slower than ordinary computer usage. “It is not yet ripe enough,” he said.
But with improvements it could eventually become a competitor, enabling people to sit back and think and operate a computer, he said.
But it would take a lot to let a graphic artist, for example, carry out sophisticated movements with his brain activity.
Still, it would make a difference for the disabled, and the BGU team plan to continue their research on such people; until now, the application was developed using 17 healthy subjects.
Asked whether a severe headache could disrupt its use, Puzis said it probably would, “but working with a computer mouse is also affected by severe headaches.” He said the BGU application was small enough to be used in one’s home, not just in a university lab.