What if you could operate a device with your thoughts? What if you had to simply imagine movements to see them completed by a robot? Once the stuff of science fiction, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are making such scenarios a reality by converting thoughts into computerized action. This futuristic technology uses electrodes to amplify the voltages between neurons enabling a programmed computer or device to interpret them. With its unique ability to enhance human-machine interaction, BCIs have a revolutionary potential across industries and verticals.
Researchers in the healthcare field are making rapid strides in assistive technology for the differently abled with the help of BCIs. The technology is being used to build responsive, advanced prosthetic equipment and robotic limbs. By mapping a patient’s brain to prosthetics using sensors, neural commands can be communicated, resulting in movement. Patients that suffer from brain injuries can benefit from implantable microprocessors that conduct specific neural functions aiding independent functioning. Soon BCIs could handle entire sensory functions serving as the vital link between external stimuli and the neurons that interpret them.
BCIs are also furthering research in the field of machine communication and security. This could have a direct impact on the manufacturing sector enabling machines and devices to be operated remotely. BCIs are also useful in areas where quick response times are crucial. The lag time associated with motor movements can be bypassed thus improving task performance and error handling in the workplace. Regularly operated devices could benefit with an always-on security system mapped to the user’s brain. For example, researchers in Japan have developed an in-car brainwave scanner that constantly authenticates the operator’s ability to handle a vehicle and restricts access accordingly.
The ability of BCIs to improve the user experience and enhance sensory impulses can be beneficial to the entertainment sector. The lucrative video game market is seeing adoption of the technology to create an immersive gaming experience that accounts for sensory impulses apart from motor action, increasing challenge and interaction levels.
A significant milestone in BCI research was the 2013 development of wireless, implantable and rechargeable electrodes by US researchers. This will further improve the quality of field experimentation giving scientists a wider picture of complex human functions and interactions. Enterprises could use these findings to inform workload distribution and collaboration strategies eventually establishing robust patterns of productivity.
In the future, passwords could be replaced with 'passthoughts' that use unique brainwave combinations for identification. Computer interfaces will become more responsive to a user's mental state and adapt their operations accordingly. The potential of BCIs to improve the depth, quality and richness of human-machine interaction is simply endless and BCIs could soon permeate the everyday aspects of human life.