A Telepathic Wheelchair

A new neuroprosthetic interface – that is “it reads minds without drilling into skulls” – is being tested by scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federal De Lausanne’s Institute of Bioengineering.

The practical application – one can now pilot an electric wheelchair using only one’s mind – brings a new type of mobility to the fully paralyzed. Users’ specific brain patterns are recorded via electroencephalography (EEG) and then translated into commands given to the chair. To turn left, one imagines moving one’s left hand, for example.

This would be impressive enough, but to take some of the “thinking load” off the user, two small cameras, situated on each side of the chair, helps avoid obstacles, much like a roomba. Between the two techniques, it brings new hope for mobility.

It’s not ready for mass production yet, as there are difficulties in object recognition.

“The system requires advanced artificial intelligence—it will need to distinguish between different types of objects: furniture, people, and doorways. Carlson explains that “if it is a cabinet, the chair should be directed around it. But if it is a desk, the chair will have to recognize it and approach it appropriately.

In the future, the system will be able to interpret the user’s higher-level intentions. “We are trying to analyze different brain patterns, such as error-related potentials that may help to disambiguate the intentions of the user,” says Carlson. “Does the user want to avoid the desk or is it his, and should the chair pull up to it so he can work?”

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