While the concept of controlling a computer with voice commands never quite panned out the way optimistic sci-fi movies made us hope for, Hitachi is forging ahead with the next development in control: using your thoughts. The company’s Japanese researchers have created a system that allows users to control the motion of a toy electric train with thoughts alone.
The device is based on a special cap that uses infrared light to monitor blood flow in the brain – technology known as optical topography. By mapping the output of many sensors, the cap can sense when different parts of the brain are active.
Researchers rigged the device so that activity in the frontal cortex would trigger the train to move forward. When a person dons the cap and begins working that region of their brain by say, doing calculations, the train moves forward. It stops when the thinking stops.
Although the demonstration is just a crude example of how the technology could be used, eventually researchers hope to refine it so that it can be used to perform useful tasks. For instance, it might eventually be possible to control a television set and channel surf without ever picking up a remote control. However, as with voice recognition technology, it could take many years to learn how to reliably translate complex biological signals into commands a computer can recognize.