Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mind Reading Machine in Development for Patients Who Cannot Speak or Type, Translates Thoughts into Letters to Build Words

Scientists at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) have developed a machine that reads the thoughts of patients who are unable to speak or to type on a conventional keyboard.

Researchers led by Prof. Marc Van Hulle at the KU Leuven laboratory for neuro- and psychophysiology have developed a prototype of a portable instrument that can convert brain signals into words and sentences. The instrument is no bigger than a matchbox and was developed by the microelectronics laboratory Imec and is connected to a type of shower cap containing electrodes. These electrodes register the electrical activity of the brain and the signals captured by the instrument can be transferred to a computer by USB stick and decoded using a specially-developed program.

The electrode in the Mind Speller cap are attached to an electro-encephalograph (EEG) machine. The patient looks at a set of signs - letters, numbers and punctuation marks - and the machine "reads" whichever sign has been selected.

The patient is then able to build up words and sentences, one letter at a time, which can be read from a screen or transformed into speech. At a later stage, the team wants to integrate word-completion and the sort of predictive text function already common on mobile phones.

The device was developed for Professor Van Hulle by IMEC in Leuven, the country's largest research centre for nanotechnology. The apparatus has been tested on 12 patients with encouraging results.

Van Hulle promised to introduce improvements and replace the swim-cap with a sort of diadem containing the essential components. "We hope to have the set on the market within two years," he said. The price will be around $270 (200 euros).

The Mind Speller was awarded the annual Swift Prize in February 2010, which recognizes organizations using communication and information technologies, worth $67,000 (50,000 euros).

Demo-movies of a brain-typer BCI system based on steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP), which LUV researchers are currently working on is presented below.

For further videos and information on the mind speller visit: Catholic University of Leuven.  KUL’s P300-based mind-speller is described in detail in their LNCS paper: Chumerin, N. et. al (2009). P300 detection based on Feature Extraction in on-line Brain-Computer InterfaceLecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 5803/2009, pp. 339-346.

Laboratorium voor Neurofysiologie
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Faculteit Geneeskunde (Medical School)
Campus Gasthuisberg
Onderwijs en Navorsing 2
Bus 1021
Herestraat 49
BE-3000 Leuven, Belgium
Phone: ++32 (0)16 / 34.59.61 (Marc Van Hulle)
++32 (0)16 / 34.57.40 (secretary)
Fax:  ++32 (0)16 / 34.59.60
Email: marc(at)

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