Remote-control system uses brain waves
A man tests the Mind Control Tool Operating System
System could be a boon for paralyzed people
December 25, 1997
Web posted at: 2:31 p.m. EST (1931 GMT)
HIMEJI, Japan (AP) -- Something spooky's afoot. Lights turn
on without warning. The TV flashes channels at random. In the
distance, a chime goes off.
But there are no poltergeists here. A scientist-entrepreneur
decked out in pink goggles and a green lab coat is
controlling everything -- apparently with his brain waves.
Hidenori Onishi is using a device that senses brain-wave
patterns and converts them into signals used to operate
electrical appliances. He claims that the machine is the
world's first brain-wave remote control aimed at a broad
Its inventors believe it may be a major breakthrough for
bedridden or paralyzed people whose bodily movements are
"We're already marketing remote-control products that are
activated by touch, voice or breathing," said Onishi, whose
Technos Japan Co. jointly developed the device with the
Himeji Institute of Technology. "When your limbs are
paralyzed and you can't use your voice, what you have left is
Goggles are attached to a computer
Few outside researchers have seen the product, although
Onishi says they are welcome to evaluate it.
Naoki Yoshida, a researcher at the College of Medical
Technology at Hokkaido University, said the system will be
useful to the handicapped, "if the system really responds to
brain waves and it doesn't require training." He cautioned,
however, that creating a system that responds to brain waves
"seems very difficult."
The device in Onishi's lab looks like a pair of ski goggles
-- in fact, a device to hold electrodes to the head --
attached to a laptop-sized computer. It is called the Mind
Control Tool Operating System, or MCTOS, and should be ready
for sale in April at a cost of about $4,800.
Onishi said similar devices have been built, but remain
either experimental or highly impractical. One device made in
the United States requires that an electrode be implanted in
the user's scalp, he said.
MCTOS, however, appear to be surprisingly easy to master.
"The system requires no training by the user, because the
brain waves the machine responds to are emitted simply by
exercising the will," Onishi said.
In practical terms, exercising the will means saying
something like "Yes!" or "On!" inside your head.
User has menu of options
Any strong mental affirmation sends out a brain signal that
the electrodes apparently intercept and feed to the computer.
The computer then activates the appropriate appliance.
Nerve cells in the brain are constantly emitting a variety of
electrical impulses, each of which has a distinctive
wave-like pattern when monitored by an instrument called the
MCTOS responds to a single type of brain impulse, the beta
wave, which is produced in states of mental excitement. It
can also be set up to operate by the electrical impulses
emitted by rapid eye movement.
"Brain waves are emitted by everyone," Onishi said. "But
there are some types that are difficult to control and others
that can be controlled quite easily."
To prove his point, Onishi put on the electrodes, clenched
his fists and closed his eyes. Electric bells started ringing
on command and the TV responded to his every wish.
Items on the display menu, which looks like a computer screen
and can be placed conveniently in front of the user, include
television, stereo and electric bed control. A brain wave
pulse turns the computer on, and more pulses are used to step
through a menu of appliances and the desired actions by them.
Discomfort appears solvable
One drawback is that the goggles must be worn to operate the
system, and they can cause discomfort if they are wrapped
around the eyes all day long. It appeared to a reporter
that they could be replaced by a more comfortable headband.
An Associated Press reporter who tested the system easily
mastered simple tasks like turning on lights. More demanding
activities such as changing television channels took a bit of
extra thought, however.
The device can be switched off when not in use, so it won't
change the channel, say, by the user's mental excitement when
a baseball player smacks a home run.
Copyright 1997 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.