What can be achieved with technology seems to have no boundaries. Todd Coleman of the University of California at San Diego is devising noninvasive means of controlling machines via the mind, techniques virtually everyone might be able to use.
In past studies, Coleman’s team found that volunteers could use caps studded with electrodes to remotely control airplanes and flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over cornfields in Illinois. Although the electronic tattoos currently cannot be used to pilot planes, “we’re actively working on that,” Coleman says.
These devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly.
“We’ve demonstrated our sensors can pick up the electrical signals of muscle movements in the throat so that people can communicate just with thought,” Coleman says. Electronic tattoos placed over the throat could also pick up signals that would help smartphones with speech recognition, he added.
Invasive brain implants remain better at reading brain activity, Coleman notes.
But neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Medical Center says there is a need for noninvasive technologies such as these for the brain. “People will want to navigate environments just by thinking, or play games just by thinking,” says Nicolelis, who did not take part in this research.
Coleman detailed his group’s most recent findings in Boston on Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. [Txchnologist]