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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 consumer market.

Its inventors believe it may be a major breakthrough for bedridden or paralyzed people whose bodily movements are severely restricted.

"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 your brain."

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 electroencephalograph.

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.


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