Neuroscience has ramifications for future warfare, and the scientific community must be more aware. So says a new report published by the Royal Society titled Neuroscience, conflict and security
, which cites interest in neuroscience from the military community, and identifies particular technologies that may arise. Among them is the potential for "neural interface systems" (NIS) to bring about weapons controllable by the human mind, though the reports also discusses more benign military applications of neuroscience, such as fostering a revolution in prosthetic limbs.
A bio-feedback armband called BodyWave is the first of its kind to measure brainwave activity through the body, not the scalp. Instead of an EEG headset recording a user's concentration level, the Bodywave reads brainwaves at the arm by measuring the electric current given off by neurons firing in the brain. Bundled with an interactive software package called Play Attention
, it reportedly enables interactive feedback and training towards peak mental performance. Apart from the obvious potential in sport, its ability to train attention and teach stress-control in mobile situations (much less obtrusively than wearing a headset) opens up wider potential. It has already found applications in education, industry and the military as well as in improving the lives of people with disabilities like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In the 1983 film Brainstorm
, Christopher Walken played a scientist who was able to record movies of people's mental experiences, then play them back into the minds of other people. Pretty far-fetched, right? Well, maybe not. Utilizing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computer models, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have been able to visually reconstruct the brain activity of human subjects watching movie trailers - in other words, they could see what the people's brains were seeing.
Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) continue to advance the development of their “brain cap” technology that allows users to turn their thoughts into motion. The team has already had success in using EEG brain signals captured from the cap’s 64 electrodes attached to users’ scalps to reconstruct 3D hand movements
and to control a computer cursor with their thoughts, and now the team has successfully reconstructed the complex 3D-movements of the ankle, knee and hip joints during treadmill walking. The aim is to provide a non-invasive technology that can return motor function to victims of paralysis, injury or stroke.
For a great number of people with paralyzed limbs, the reason that they can’t move the arm or leg in question is because the “move” command isn’t able to reach from their brain to the limb. This is often due to damage to the nervous system, or to the brain, although the limb itself is still perfectly functional ... so it could still move, if only
there was a way of getting the signal to it. Well, one might be on its way. Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed an implant known as the BioBolt, that wirelessly transmits neural signals from the brain to a computer. In the future, that computer could hopefully then relay them onto a formerly-paralyzed limb.
Until recently a purely lab based technology, brainwave (electroencephalograph or EEG) headsets are trickling into the marketplace in a number of different guises. But what exactly do these devices do, how do they differ from each other and - with potential applications ranging from medicine to gaming and market research – who will use them and for what purpose? Dr. Max Sutherland takes a closer look.
Imagine a Wii that lets you play a musical instrument with your brain without touching strings or a keyboard. That's exactly what this "proof of concept" brain-computer-music-interface (BCMI) is designed to do – it uses brain waves and eye movement to sound musical notes, so even a person with "locked-in-syndrome" could participate in creative activity analogous to learning to play a musical instrument. Developed by a team headed by Eduardo Miranda, a composer and computer music specialist from the UK's University of Plymouth, the BCMI can be set up on a laptop computer for under $3,500 (including the computer). For people who are disabled, assistive technology usually aims at day-to-day functioning and largely ignores the unique aspect of being a human – creativity. This is different.
It is a commonly held myth that much of the effectiveness of communication is determined by nonverbal cues, but try telling that to someone who has lost the power of speech due to brain injury or damage to their vocal cords or airway. In a move that could help restore communication for in this situation, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have successfully used regions of the brain that control speech to “talk” to a computer through the implantation of a temporary surgical implant. The patients were able to manipulate a cursor on a computer screen simply by saying or thinking of a particular sound.
If you’ve seen Avatar
, then you’ve seen futuristic versions of exoskeletons
– mechanical systems that human users wear over their bodies, to augment their own physical abilities. While exoskeletons are already available and in use today, they’re sometimes a bit more machine than what is needed. After all, why put on an expensive full- or half-body contraption, when you’re performing a task that mostly just requires the use of one arm? That’s where the x-Ar exoskeletal arm support comes in. Users wear it on their dominant arm, and it moves with them, providing support as they do things such as holding tools out in front of themselves.
Practical thought-controlled devices, such as wheelchairs
, artificial arms
, or even cars
, are perhaps a step closer to reality thanks to research being carried out at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Traditionally, brain-computer interfaces require the user to concentrate on constantly maintaining a mental command of either turn left, turn right, or no-command (go straight). According to EPFL, most users can’t sustain more than about an hour of the necessary mental effort. The school is developing a new system, however, that allows users to take breaks and shift their attention to other things while their thought-controlled device continues to operate on its own.