Mind control might seem like an element of science fiction, but University professor Bin He is currently working to perfect the technology.
He said he has worked with brain research for about 10 years, but recently the technology has been making more progress.
He has created a device called the thinking cap, which detects the weak signals emitted by the brain and uses them to create a control signal for external devices.
The cap, which resembles a swimming cap, is placed on the subject’s head and senses different signals within the brain.
His research group has the goal of extending the technology to help people with physical disabilities, especially those who are paralyzed.
The concept behind mind-control research is that signals from the brain can be detected and used to control external objects, he said.
The research so far has led to the development of a brain-computer interface using the thinking cap.
“It is possible to control external devices, including a cursor on a computer screen, just by thinking about how to control it,” Bin He said.
He said although he was originally skeptical, he became involved with this research because he heard about the prospect of controlling a cursor using brain waves.
However, he said when he began the research, it became very exciting and interesting and he remained involved in the project.
He said the technology to build the thinking cap is available now, but the challenge is “how to extract the brain signal and turn it into a control signal.”
Christopher Wilke, a biomedical engineering student and research assistant who worked with Bin He, said other technology similar to the thinking cap has allowed people with paralysis to move computerized arms, so the future hope for this research seems to be a reality.
“We just want to understand the brain better, and in the long term use this technology for neuroscience and to help people with disabilities,” Wilke said.
So far, Bin He has conducted experiments with subjects who have been able to move a cursor on a computer screen simply by wearing the thinking cap and imagining where they want the cursor to go.
Alex Doud, a neuroscience sophomore, said he is involved in the research and has personally used the thinking cap.
“It’s just the most amazing thing,” Doud said. “The first few trials are difficult, but eventually you feel in touch with the computer.”
The goal from the start of this research was to help people who are disabled, especially those who are paralyzed, complete daily tasks, Bin He said.
“There are people who cannot walk or move, and we want them to be able to tell an external device what to do,” he said.
Doud said he hopes this technology will help those who are disabled “create an avenue for contact with the rest of the world. Eventually it can help people type, move or do other daily tasks with their hands.”
However, Bin He believes this technology could extend beyond the medical field.
“I believe this technology could be used in the life of an everyday subject,” he said.
He said it could be a big hit with teenagers in industries like video gaming and could also be employed in the military.
“Ultimately, the goal is to do as much as we can with this technology,” he said.