Cogitat, a neurotech company, is developing a system that can translate human brain activity into actions without any physical movement.

Basic virtual reality activities can be performed by thinking about them while wearing a prototype headset.

In a game where a VR jet ski is operated by handles, for example, you move by thinking about it rather than squeezing your hands.

Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink, is working on a similar idea.

It’s known as brain-computer interface, and many neurotech firms are working on it.

One goal is to eventually enable individuals who have had a stroke or other brain injuries to remotely control phones or computers.

The Neuralink technique necessitates the implantation of a chip into the brain. The company has only dealt with animals so far and has been chastised for their treatment. It has published videos purportedly showing a monkey playing Pong with its mind and the brain activity of a pig with a chip implanted in its brain.

Cogitat is one of the companies working on a system that operates on top of the cranium rather than inside it.

It may one day take the shape of a headband worn in conjunction with a VR headset. Some businesses are already developing their own hardware, but Cogitat, as a university spin-off, is focusing solely on the technology behind it.

It is headed by NHS consultant Allan Ponniah and Imperial College London computer scientist Dimitrios Adamos.

The technology is still in its early stages, but it has already been tested on stroke patients with positive outcomes. The goal is to make rehabilitation exercises more engaging in order to motivate them to continue with them.

“When a person has a stroke and is unable to move their limb, they are extremely demotivated to participate in rehabilitation. Our technology, however, will enable them to imagine moving their hand and seeing a hand move on the screen, which we believe will motivate them to begin their physiotherapy course “Mr Ponniah stated on the BBC podcast Tech Tent.

Weird experience

I attempted it, and it was a strange experience. To begin with, it is more difficult than it appears to think about making an action without actually making one. You should also try not to think about anything else, as this increases your brain activity and generates more noise for the tech to decode while it searches for the motor signal.

I’d never seen my own brain activity displayed in real time on a screen in front of me before, like a complex, multi-layered cardiogram. Seeing the essence of my ideas on a graph was strange in and of itself. But hearing that VR jet ski engine roar just because you thought about it is an incredible sensation.

Of course, the prototype device did not completely read my thoughts. It wasn’t interpreting my ideas or probing deep into my soul. It was solely concerned with motor ability signals.

“If you don’t interact with the system, nothing occurs,” Mr Adamos explains. “If you cease using it, nothing is picked up from you.”

Other companies concentrate on various kinds of brain activity, such as visual signals, which allow you to focus on a number while pressing buttons on a screen. It is also feasible, though controversial, to focus on more personal responses such as likes and dislikes.

Cogitat says it hopes to have a working prototype of its technology within the next 12 months, but neurotech faces several challenges.

Brain function is still being studied by experts. It is unique to each of us and is not consistent. It varies throughout the day and can be influenced by variables such as tiredness and dehydration, as well as age. This implies that any brain activity reading system must be constantly calibrated.

Cogitat is calibrating its tech using a database of hundreds of people who have tested it out. I met some of the staff, mostly students who were enthusiastic and patient as they guided me through the demonstration.

Mr Adamos informs me proudly that Cogitat not only won first place in a recent global machine-learning competition, but also defeated a team from the US Army.

He offered everyone time off to party, but no one took him up on it.

“Everyone was in the next day,” he adds. “It’s incredibly fascinating for us and everyone else who’s joined us on this adventure.”


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