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Samsung Tinkers With Mind-Controlled Tablet

Samsung Tinkers With Mind-Controlled Tablet

Stare at an icon on a tablet computer and you could turn on the device, launch apps and even cue up a song. That's if research on thought control of devices now underway by Samsung and a University of Texas professor is successful. The sticking point has always been sticking electrodes on the scalp, but the research may have found a way to make EEG headsets more user-friendly. The development continues efforts by companies and academics to pursue new frontiers in user interfaces.

By Richard Adhikari
04/22/13 1:50 PM PT

Samsung is researching a system that would allow consumers to use thought control on a tablet computer, according to published reports.

Together with Roozbeh Jafari, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, the company is testing how sensors and brainwaves could let users turn on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, launch applications, select contacts or choose songs from playlists.

The research is part of Samsung's efforts to find new ways to interact with mobile devices.

"This is the same idea as Google Glass and it looks gimmicky right now, but if they do it right and they come up with a good strategy, it will have some legs because the world is moving towards more gesture-controlled user interfaces," Julien Blin, a directing analyst at Infonetics told TechNewsWorld.

Samsung has "probably been working on the project for a couple of years now and they're only just talking about it," Blin said.

Samsung's Thought Experiment

Samsung's experiment requires test subjects to wear a cap studded with electrodes. Conventional electrodes have to be wet, or require the test subjects' scalp to be smeared with a liquid gel to improve conductivity. They can take up to 45 minutes to apply.

However, the electrodes used in Samsung's research, which were designed by Jafari, are reportedly dry and take about 10 minutes to set up.

The dry electrodes make for lower signal quality, but Jafari is working on improving brain signal processing.

For the tablet control experiment, the researchers monitored well-known brain activity patterns that happen when people see repetitive visual patterns. They found that test subjects could launch an application and make selections within it by concentrating on an icon blinking at a certain frequency.

It appears that the researchers are building on the fact that lights flashing on and off at certain frequencies may cause epileptic seizures, or can otherwise impact neural functions. "That's how they are synchronizing the system with the brain," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Both Samsung and Jafari declined our request to comment for this story.

Cogito Ergo Control?

Samsung has joined a long line of organizations looking into using thoughts to control devices of one sort or another.

The University of California at Berkeley is working on technology that would let computer owners use thoughts to enter passwords. That process uses the NeuroSky Mindset, a Bluetooth headset that costs about US$100 to purchase.

Brown University in February unveiled a wireless, fully implantable brain sensor that has worked well in animal models for more than a year. The broadband device has been implanted in three pigs and three rhesus monkeys. However, the Brown device does get hot, and has sparked some objections on health grounds.

Earlier this month, the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which will focus on understanding the human brain, was the subject of an announcement from President Obama. That project is focused on helping researchers find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation will kick in about $100 million in research beginning in fiscal year 2014 for the BRAIN initiative.

"If you can link directly to the brain, you can eliminate much of the delay [between thinking of a motion and actually moving], providing significant advantages in managing weapons systems, accident avoidance, and for certain kinds of sports," Enderle said.

"Now we're beginning to use eye-tracking technology instead of gestures, and the next evolution is using thought waves," Blin said. "It won't happen any time soon. You're looking two, three or four years down the road."


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