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Toyota thinks up mind-reading wheelchair

Toyota, in collaboration with researchers in Japan, has developed a wheelchair controlled by brain waves.


Last week, we told you about Mindflex, a Mattel toy that lets players move objects with their brains. This week comes word that the same technology is making its way into a more functional application--a wheelchair that users can maneuver with thought alone.

Toyota has developed the wheelchair in collaboration with researchers in Japan. The system analyzes brain wave data using signal-processing technology and delivers neuro-feedback to the driver.

Brain wave-detecting technology, or electroencephalography (EEG), isn't new. In layman's terms, a device, usually a cap wired with sensors, detects a person's brain waves. That information is analyzed by a computer and applied to the device in question. Scientists have pursued the technology for decades, but have had difficulty achieving short response times, explains the Associated Press.

Toyota's mind-controlled wheelchair, however, has what appears to be the quickest response time yet: 125 milliseconds, or 125 thousandths of a second. The user can almost instantly steer right, left, and forward. To stop, the person in the chair must puff up a cheek, a motion that's then detected by the headpiece.

Because of this quick response time, plans are under way to turn the wheelchair into a commercial health care product. The most practical use would be for rehabilitation patients who have been paralyzed, suffered a stroke, or have other conditions that hinder their muscle control. So far, the research has centered on brain waves related to imaginary hand and foot control. However, Toyota hopes the system could ultimately be applied to brain waves generated by emotions.

EEG technology has been applied in areas of research beyond health care and gaming. Honda, for example, is working on a mind-controlled robot. And Lawrence Farwell, chief scientist and founder of the Seattle-based Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, has developed a technology he says is more accurate than the traditional lie detector.

The technology is best used as evidence in criminal cases. According to ABC News, subjects are presented with facts, stories, images, or questions related to the crime they're being accused of. If the subject recognizes a word or picture, the brain releases an involuntary response that supposedly confirms that the subject was present during the scene of the crime.

Research for the mind-reading technology has been funded and used by the U.S. government in recent years. In 2003, a man convicted of murder in Iowa was released from jail, as the technology confirmed that he was not present for the crime, ABC News reports.