The Berlin Brain-Computer Interface

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The ‘mental typewriter,’ developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute and Humboldt University medical school in Berlin, was exhibited at the CeBit computer fair in Hanover, Germany earlier this month.

The Berlin Brain-Computer Interface (BBCI) consists of an electroencephalogram cap containing electrodes that measure the electrical activity in the motor cortex. This region of the brain starts generating electrical signals when movements are being planned. The BCCI amplifies the signals and transmits them to the computer which converts them into electronic cursor control signals.

After 20 minutes of imagining the arm movements required to move a cursor, a user can control the computer’s cursor to move over an on-screen keyboard using the power of thought.

The researchers now hope to develop a commercial version of the BCCI which can be used by amputees to control electronic prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. The device can be used as a computer game controller – the researchers demonstrated ‘Brain Pong’ at the computer fair – and could also be developed into a driving aid which anticipates a person’s reactions and uses the corresponding electrical signals to control the car.