June 2010

Think to Type Brainwave Technology

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Imagine being able to think words, and they appear on the screen. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are now able to do just that in a lab. For people who are unable to speak after an injury or a stroke, this brain wave technology provides hope.

Through measuring electrical activity using metallic sensors, brain waves can be translated into words on a screen.

“They know what they want to say. They can still think about what they want to do, but they can’t express it. This is technology that would allow people like that to communicate with the world,” says Dr. Jerry Shih.

Right now a person concentrates on a flashing letter on a computer monitor. This creates an electrical charge in the volunteer’s brain, and that information is sent to the computer. The computer translates that particular signal to mean the letter that the person was thinking and projects it on the screen.

This is today’s technology, and Doctor Shih envisions much more for the future.

He says, “It’s certainly in the realm of possibility that in the next several years your brain waves can control an external device that can walk over to that pencil, pick it up and move it to write something.”

Currently other research is being done to allow people to move prosthetic limbs or a wheelchair using only brainwaves. Dr. Shih says this technology is in its early stages and may take ten years or more before it is ready for public use.

There are similar other brainwave to speech/movement projects happening around the world at the same time. See some of these videos below:

Wheelchair Simulator Game Prototype

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A wheelchair simulation game, controlled by a real wheelchair, requires a player to “escape the maze.” The simulator came in 2nd place at a worldwide Game Changers competition. 

The goal of the contest is to present an idea and design for a game that can improve lives or inspire new behaviors, whether personally, professionally or communally, to create change. In short, design a game that aims to create change by improving lives or inspiring new behaviors.

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Playful Shark, a leading game development studio in Israel, created the chair simulator by hooking up a wheelchair to a computer with magnets to measure the speed and direction of each wheel. The head of the project team, “Goldy,” explained that the original concept was very different than the current concept.

“The original and “Gamer-like” concept was to set the game in a dark hospitalized world, where the medical staff (zombies?) are actually the bad ones, and the disabled hero’s goal is to fight his way out of the maze. I was captivated by the idea that the “poor” handicapped person is actually the action hero who gains control over the hostile environment. I found the metaphor rather empowering, and also imagined a scenario where a (real life) disabled player will actually find the game easier then the ordinary player,” explained Goldy.

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Judges liked the wheelchair driving simulator because it makes people aware of experiences of being disabled and demonstrates the importance of accessibility to participants.  Many found new respect now aware of what people in wheelchairs overcome every day.  The games were judged based on “overall effectiveness,” “creativity,” “practicality” and “aesthetics.”

1st Place Winner – be-B Braille Education Ball

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As for who came in first place, that award goes to the be-B Braille Education Ball.  This game allows users, blind and sighted, the ability to learn braille in a playful way.  The ball has a peg for each letter of the alphabet with braille on one side and latin on the other.  The toy speaks the letter that is touched and emits a chime when the peg goes in the correct hole.

$500 Scholarship from 1800wheelchair

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Established in 2005, 1800wheelchair, provider of wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, promotes a bi-annual scholarship. Awarded in June/July and January of each year, the scholarship awardee walks away with $500 in cash.

We caught up with the owner of 1800wheelchiar, Joseph Piekarksi, and asked him about why he offers this program:

“We try to run our business by the maxim – do well while doing good.” Piekarski went on, “Yes, we have a business selling mobility equipment and medical supplies, yet we’re also in the unique position of being able to help create a community. Offering this scholarship and selling mobility gear does not have to be exclusive.”

Previous essays have explored how disability and college life intersect. The most recent essay question solicited student views on the health care debate.

1800wheelchair owners offer, “Healthcare is so important that we reprised the essay question for our spring contest.”

This is a great program spread the word and submit your essay.

Full details on the 1800wheelchair Scholarship can be found here.

Canadian students can apply for the Canadian Scholarship here.