Brainwaves in Technological Research in Scotland

Think of Scotland and you think of lochs, castles, kilts, bagpipes and golf. It comes as a surprise to most people to hear about the pioneering research done in Scotland in medical and technological fields. Glasgow may not be as versatile now as Edinburgh is in the art and cultural scene but much of the path breaking research going on in Scotland is being done in Glasgow University.

Researchers at Glasgow University along with a team based in Berlin have developed the first mind-controlled typewriter. The device uses a cap filled with sensors that pick up electrical signals from the brain. A computer then associates these with certain movements and it recognises the brain impulses. The wearer just has to imagine moving either hands and he can control an arrow that then selects letters. Wearing one’s thinking cap now has a whole new meaning! No more misspelled words or one finger typing – anyone can type perfectly and speedily! It opens up a whole new world of communication for the disabled who have no arms or fingers or who cannot use them normally.

The mind-controlled keyboard was a huge attraction at a recent computer fair in Germany. It can be calibrated for a new user in about half an hour. The mind control typewriter and the sensor filled cap can eventually be adapted to control mobile phones and other portable devices. In Germany, neuroscientists can see future application of the scalp cap approach to brain sensing in the car industry. They are already able to control basic computer games with the brain waves detected by the product. The scientists feel it can go much beyond this and could help even able bodied people in reaction situations such as emergency braking while driving.

This device is more user-friendly and being non-invasive does not require potentially dangerous surgery like a brain implant, another pioneering way to convert thoughts into action. Implants however are more sensitive as you can tap in to much more specific groups of neurons, but direct implants have health risks. They can be linked with another development at Glasgow University’s mechanical engineering department. They have developed technology that sends electrical impulses directly into the leg muscles of paralysed patients to help them to walk again.