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Wheelchair Controlled by Thought 84

macduffman writes "New Scientist reports on another development in interfacing with the central nervous system. The system 'eavesdrops' on signals sent from the brain to the larynx, so even people who lack the muscular control to vocalize a command can operate it. The potential applications of this technology are as varied as human imagination, among them: allowing a person who has lost speech capability to vocalize again." From the article:"The wheelchair could help people with spinal injuries, or neurological problems like cerebral palsy or motor neurone disease, operate computers and other equipment despite serious problems with muscle control. The system will work providing a person can still control their larynx, or 'voice box,' which may be the case even if the lack the muscle coordination necessary to produce coherent speech."
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Wheelchair Controlled by Thought

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  • by daddyrief ( 910385 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:02PM (#20500807) Homepage
    ...but I'm more down to play a real next-gen gaming system ;)

    I'll be in the cyberspace lobby.
    • by Tackhead ( 54550 )
      > ...but I'm more down to play a real next-gen gaming system ;)

      Done! [].

      Disclaimer: Doesn't actually come with a thought-controlled interface, but what did you expect from 1982's technology?

    • I don't know what that's a reference to, but I definitely would pay top dollar to have a computer interface I can control with my mind.

      Any news on when I can buy one of these things and use it for computer input?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      You are reading too much into this.... Wheelchairs have always been controlled by the mind.... indirectly
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well we don't know the bandwidth or latency yet. But anything higher than about 1 kbps with less than 1 ms latency is going to make me own your ass in a deathmatch.

      This makes me wonder, since we as humans (and cyborgs) are now able to access the nervous system data bus, shouldn't we cut out the old slow data bus and rewire it with fiber? And when do we get a processor upgrade? I for one would at least like a decent FPU. And a built in music system. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to have a wifi connection (un
      • Processor 'upgrade'? The brain is pretty much the most awesome processor on the planet. Maybe if all you ever want to do again is play chess, or control an aeroplane then you could swap your brain for a CPU. But I wouldn't consider turning yourself into a vegetable an upgrade. Adding an FPU to your brain would be kind of handy though ;)

        Also, you either have really slow reactions, or .. you're just weird wanting to rewire yourself with glass instead of biological nerves :P You'd also need to outfit yourse
    • by heinousjay ( 683506 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @10:30PM (#20502695) Journal
      The Nintendo Wiilchair?
  • The video mentioned in TFA is old - I remember seeing it at least two months ago. Well, we can't blame Slashdot for this one - or, can we? No. But we can blame New Scientist.
  • prototype []
  • Over-hyped? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Jaqenn ( 996058 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:06PM (#20500847)
    If it's eavesdropping on the signals sent to your larynx, does that mean that you can't talk and drive at the same time?

    Does it mean that saying "I left my keys at home" while driving on the sidewalk is going to send you hurtling into traffic?
  • Pfff! (Score:2, Funny)

    by morari ( 1080535 )
    We've had those at the academy forever! I don't know where Prof. Xavier got his, but he's always zooming around the hallways, honking and yelling at us "whippersnappers" to get out of the way.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Davros, is that you?
      • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )
        You will agree, I think, that voice control is a remarkable step forward. However, the best is yet to come. Nyder?
  • by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:07PM (#20500861)
    Surely the mouth and tongue are also required for speech. How much information can you convey using just your larynx?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Not to be rude, but how is this insightful? The throat and mouth follow the commands of the brain, therefore unless they have independent intelligence they would not add any additional information.
      • The deal with this device is that it is intercepting the nerves that go to the larynx (from what I can tell from the article). I don't think that's much more than one channel.

        Consider what your feet and hands do with driving. It's generally easier to control something with a bunch of different channels available to yourself, and you get more bandwidth. Kind of like hunting and pecking versus touch typing. Or playing an FPS with just the keyboard compared to mouse + keyboard. The brain will use as many chan
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      How much information can you convey using just your larynx?
      hwt ah bt, uhctully.
    • by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @11:47PM (#20503249) Homepage Journal

      How much information can you convey using just your larynx?

      Well, how much information do you really need to drive a wheelchair?

      Rotate left
      Rotate right
      stop current action

      Not much. I'm sure there are four discernible signals to the larynx, probably more. Just a quick guess, but you could probably detect the following sequences of long/short "uh" sounds:

      short short (uh uh)
      short long (uh uuuuh)
      long short (uuuuh uh)
      long long (uuuuh uuuuh)

      There's four signals.

      • Man, if I end up on such a wheelchair, I sure hope my larynx is fucked up too. Because otherwise it sounds like an orangutan on a wheelchair. "Uh uh uuuuh uh uh uuuuh uuuuh uuuuh!" Throw in some chest thumping and people might try to appease me with bananas.
      • by martnik ( 926891 )
        I think you meant the other order there. Not "uuuuh uuuuh" for stopping! I think short short is for stopping. Much more important than rotating. I mean it's gonna be "uuuuh... oops, didn't stop, I feel off a cliff."
      • even if there are only 4 commands, the percent error this machine should have in discerning between the commands should be less than 0.1% (1/1000). Think about it, how often do you tell yourself to stop walking? Now what if one of those is to tell yourself to stop walking across the street. while this technology seems useful, they'll sure have to test the hell out of it before it gets anywhere near production.
  • Steven Hawking is getting for xmas...
  • ...and how long will it be before this wheelchair is the preferred ride of crippled Starfleet captains? []

    beeeeeep.... beeeeeeep.....

  • by Anonymous Coward []

    Al Capp was always sending up the captains of industry. He dreamed up the Shmoos who could solve all the problems of humanity. Naturally, the captains of industry spent a lot of time making sure the Shmoos didn't proliferate.

    In one of the story lines an inventor came up with a car that needed no fuel, it was powered by the heartbeat of its driver. The captains of industry lured him up to the 100th floor of a building to demonstrate his (small) vehicle. As he was driving it down
  • Put this guy [] in it. Wheeeee!
  • I saw it demoed about a month ago. Dude drove a wheelchair and talked through it. Two questions:

    Does it have an internal monologue feature?

    How long until the NSA makes us all wear one?

    • Re:It's fo real (Score:5, Interesting)

      by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @11:01PM (#20502897) Homepage Journal

      How long until the NSA makes us all wear one?

      For a short time in college I was on a research team looking into this kind of stuff. (Way back in '93, this was) The electrical impulses that are meant for your vocal chords, but are suppressed because you don't want to (or can't) speak are called "covert oral behavior." Anyway, even back then, we were working on training up neural networks to translate the signals into words/phonemes. I'm sure the technology has come a long way since then.

      Right around 9/11 and the whole Gitmo thing I started thinking, "I'll bet covert oral behavior detection is being used to interrogate prisoners." The thing is, the signals "leak" down your nerves when you only think words, but don't say them. The trick is being able to interpret them and translate them to words. Not easy by any stretch, but once successful it would be the closest thing to ESP around.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    On the topic of thought-controlled devices, I've just received a prototype of a device which actually does send out the brainwave signals to the CPU. The drawback is that it only runs under Windows.

    What I'm wondering is whether there are any completely Open Source (preferrably GPL based) projects out there which provide an application-layer API? I can handle reverse engineering the driver. The question is what to do with the data once it's passed up to user space, and made available for applications.

    Does an
    • What kind of data do you end up with once the driver has interpreted the signals, and what do you want to map that data to? I mean, do you want it to act like some sort of standard user input device and move the cursor, select user interface items (click, double click, right click), and send keystrokes (e.g. keyboard, mouse, trackball, touch screen, etc.) -- or do you want it to act like something else? If you want it to generate standard UID events, look into /dev/uinput. I wrote a user space driver that t
  • Only Catch (Score:4, Funny)

    by aztec rain god ( 827341 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:38PM (#20501209)
    You have to think in Russian!
  • It would be fun watching someones multiple personalities fight over the control.
  • Audeo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SparhawkA ( 608965 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @07:54PM (#20501377)
    For another cool demo of the Audeo and how it was developed, you can watch a 5-minute video here: []

    It's under "Tuesday" -- the last topic titled "Algorithm Engineering, Michael Callahan, Thomas Coleman"

  • Just hold still Sir while we solder these leads to your Posterior Lobes. You may feel some "pressure"...
  • So now when somebody 'thinks' about driving suicidal ...
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @08:17PM (#20501595) Homepage Journal
    I always wonder whether embedding a glucose powered computer of some description into a new-born baby's brain would give them super math ability.. if you can fit a wireless connection in there too, that'd be nice.

    I guess there's no ethical way to do it though.
    • Wireless my ass. I've often voiced support for leash-laws on the little turds. I think it'd be much more effective for the little brat to discover that running off would mean having his USB cord pulled out, thus disabling all the drivers for his legs causing the kid to fall on his face.
  • I see that Daleks are more feasible now... Someone call The Doctor!!
  • Now if they would build that automatic spring puncher thing and the rotor blades like they had for Hawkings in the Simpsons...
  • Thought for the day: Whatever you do, don't fall asleep in the wheelchair!! You could wake up anywhere...
  • ... a hill? Think "I think I can, I think I can!"
  • I think there are a number of ways one can have fun with this . . .
  • Reminds me of this [] :)
  • How long before we have a thought-controlled speech synthesiser?
  • by tsa ( 15680 )
    And I had another idea. What happens when somebody who is in a thought-controlled wheelchair falls asleep and dreams about a wheelchair race or being chased in his chair? That could be dangerous.
  • you FEEL like running people over.
  • I for one wonder if our newly mobile mental overlords can run linux on a beowulf cluster of these things?

  • Web comic about this technology... touch.html []

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972