Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) is a hot area of research. In the past year alone we’ve looked at a system to allow people to control a robotic arm and another that enables users to control an ASIMO robot with nothing but the power of thought. Such systems rely on the use of an electroencephalograph (EEG) to capture brain waves and translate them into commands to control a machine. Now researchers at the University of Southampton have used a similar technique to show it is possible to transmit thoughts from one person to another.

An experiment conducted by Dr Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research saw a person attached to an EEG amplifier. The person would generate a series of binary digits, imagining moving their left arm for zero and their right arm for one. The stream of binary digits was then transmitted over the Internet to a second person who was also attached to an EEG amplifier and a PC that picked up the stream of digits and flashed an LED lamp at two different frequencies, one for zero and the other for one.

The pattern of the flashing LEDS was too subtle to be consciously picked up by the second person, so that at no time were they aware whether a zero or a one was transmitted. Nonetheless, the information could be recovered from their brain, using electrodes measuring the visual cortex of the recipient. The encoded information was thus extracted from the brain activity of the second user, and the PC deciphered whether a zero or a one was transmitted - thereby showing true brain-to-brain (B2B) activity.

According to Dr James, “here we show, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing. We have yet to grasp the full implications of this, but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit, such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called 'locked-in' syndrome, to communicate and it also has applications for gaming."

Check out the video below to see the BCI experiment carried out by the University of Southampton researchers.