Could 2020 be the year we see and think with brain-computer interfaces?

At Slush in November, NextMind revealed their brain-sensing wearable, that lets you interact with a computer – with your mind. What is the next frontier?
NextMind development kit for Unity 3D
NextMind has a developer waiting list for their NextMind Dev Kit for Unity 3D. Image: NextMind

Mind control

Tech has come a long way in being able to interact with people. Particularly with medical conditions that restrict physical movements, machines that interpret speech through eye movement and carry out instructions from small physical movements have revolutionised life for people living with severe conditions.

Now Sid Kouider, founder of NextMind has taken it a step further. His invention was premiered at Slush last November and left the crowd reeling.

The big question though doesn’t seem to be whether it works (it clearly does!) but how it will be useful.

The tech

Kouider has created a thinking cap with a difference. His tech is described as the ‘6th sense of direct brain command’.

The hardware itself is a cap that the wearer straps onto their head. No shaving, no implants, nothing at all; just a little cap that looks like it’s made of plastic.

Arielle Pardes reports testing the cap during a demo last month. First, the user has to create a ‘neural profile’ to understand how their thoughts direct the computer and vice versa. Once their profile has been calibrated, the real fun begins.

The demo included playing a shooting duck game by thinking that the ducks on the screen had been hit. Users can enter a pin code by focusing on the right numbers on a keypad, and change colours on screen.

All of this without the touch of a button, or uttering a word.

NextMind cap
NextMind devices strap onto the back of the users head. Image: NextMind

How it works

The NextMind cap uses electrodes which record movement within the wearers’ visual cortex. Thus, it is actually controlled by eye movement and sight rather than by actual thoughts. The device translates signals into digital data and passes them on to the computer.

Kouider has developed a proprietary material for this function, but what exactly it is, he’s not saying.

NextMind explain that their device ‘combines deep neural networks and neural signals from the brain to transform a user’s intention into direct brain commands, creating a symbiotic connection with the digital world.’

What I’m really interested in, is whether this can go one step further. The NextMind tech can interpret our eye movement and gaze to carry out instructions. But what about actually interpreting human thought?

This is exactly where Kouider is heading, with an aim to send text messages with a thought, and summoning photos on a phone by thinking of them.

Sid Kouider
Sid Kouider is a Cognitive Neuroscientist, and the founder of NextMind. Image: Sid Kouider Research

Can it really be useful?

This is the big question. Undoubtedly, NextMind is cool. But – how can it improve the quality of human life?

There are answers in terms of security – i.e entering a security code without needing to lift a finger. One of the bigger applications may be in entertainment, and VR gaming.

On stage at Slush, Kouider saidWe are also very interested in the possibilities this device has with VR and AR. When you’re for example playing in VR, you don’t only want to forget about the physical world around you, but also your physical body. This device gives you a sixth sense.’

Sounds a bit out there? I give it two years before we’re all unlocking our phones with our eyes.

What do you think? Can you suggest any markets where this technology might make a real positive impact on people’s lives?

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