Hitachi has successfully tested a brain-machine interface that allows users to turn power switches on and off with their mind. Relying on optical topography, a neuroimaging technique that uses near-infrared light to map blood concentration in the brain, the system can recognize the changes in brain blood flow associated with mental activity and translate those changes into voltage signals for controlling external devices. In the experiments, test subjects were able to activate the power switch of a model train by performing mental arithmetic and reciting items from memory.
The prototype brain-machine interface allows only simple control of switches, but with a better understanding of the subtle variations in blood concentrations associated with various brain activities, the signals can be refined and used to control more complex mechanical operations.
In the long term, brain-machine interface technology may help paralyzed patients become independent by empowering them to carry out actions with their minds. In the short term, Hitachi sees potential applications for this brain-machine interface in the field of cognitive rehabilitation, where it can be used as an entertaining tool for demonstrating a patientís progress.
The company hopes to make this technology commercially available in five years.