Asia Pacific (APAC), Global Politics, Japan

NTT Gets Closer to Technopathy With New Brain-Machine Interface

We’ve seen before in movies where characters mentally access electronics, and even in real life, where chimpanzees play with robotic arms using their brains. Technopathy, or at least anything that is remotely similar to it, has been known to be one of the endgames in technological research, and now, Japan takes us a few steps further towards that path.

NTT (TYO: 9613), in collaboration with Shimadzu Corporation, Sekisui House, Keio Private Academy, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), has developed a new type of brain-machine interface that allows users to manipulate everyday appliances using only their brains. The technology was built with the objective of developing a usable interface for assisting the elderly and disabled people.

Using a rather simple setup of wireless communication devices and an electrode gel sheet, the entire device is worn as a vest or backpack, with another device placed on the head of the user. The system’s various sensors primarily use near-infrared spectroscopy and electroencephalography to scan brain waves and communicate with each other. It then transmits information over a cloud-based or local network database, where it will be analyzed.  With a little special training and calibration from the user, the system could register specific brain wave patterns, which will be linked to a specific command that will control various electronic devices or appliances.

The user can for instance, turn air-conditioners on or off, or change channels on their TV by simply thinking about it. Granted, it’s not the instant technopathy that we all know, and the calibration setup requires devices and appliances to be connected to a network, but it’s quite close. In fact, it is actually as close as this similar project a few years ago. The system could even be customized to control more specific electronic devices, such as robotic instruments or connect to NTT’s various cloud services, albeit requiring more specific customization and calibration.

Because the technology was originally developed for healthcare purposes, the setup can also work as a 24/7 monitoring device. When the device reads certain brain signals that are connected to stress or other physiological problem, it can automatically send a distress signal to warn other people about it.

Though the technology is specifically aimed for the elderly and disabled people, NTT plans to offer it as a standard service, though there are no clear announcements yet as to how it would be implemented or how much would it cost.