Forget the clicker: A new technology in Japan could let you control electronic devices without lifting a finger simply by reading brain activity.
The “brain-machine interface” developed by Hitachi Inc. analyzes slight changes in the brain’s blood flow and translates brain motion into electric signals.
A cap connects by optical fibers to a mapping device, which links, in turn, to a toy train set via a control computer and motor during one recent demonstration at Hitachi’s Advanced Research Laboratory in Hatoyama, just outside Tokyo.
“Take a deep breath and relax,” said Kei Utsugi, a researcher, while demonstrating the device on Wednesday.
At his prompting, a reporter did simple calculations in her head, and the train sprang forward — apparently indicating activity in the brain’s frontal cortex, which handles problem solving.
Activating that region of the brain — by doing sums or singing a song — is what makes the train run, according to Utsugi. When one stops the calculations, the train stops, too.
Underlying Hitachi’s brain-machine interface is a technology called optical topography, which sends a small amount of infrared light through the brain’s surface to map out changes in blood flow.
Although brain-machine interface technology has traditionally focused on medical uses, makers like Hitachi and Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. have been racing to refine the technology for commercial application.
Hitachi’s scientists are set to develop a brain TV remote controller letting users turn a TV on and off or switch channels by only thinking.