Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Brain-powered travel

October 20, 2009

It may not look like much, but this run of the mill electric wheelchair runs on brainpower – no hands required.

Part of a joint project between Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute and Toyota, the chair reads subject’s brainwaves and converts them into movement.


While I found the technology itself quite impressive, there’s little doubt that the brain-reading headgear won’t be making fashion headlines anytime soon.

Until recently, the amount of processing time between brainwaves and the actual motion had been the major stumbling block of these type of technologies.

While increasing processing power is the driving factor, one additional method to speed up the response to get a clearer, more “noise free” reading on the brainwaves.

As I learned while watching the setup for the brain cap, this currently involves using “wet” electrodes, meaning putting a conductive goo between the sensor and the user’s scalp — not a technology you’d want to use after going to the hair salon.

What is truly impressive, though, is not how the technology is now, but where the researchers at Riken expect it to be in 10 or even five years.

While it is designed to help paraplegics, laboratory head Andrez Cichocki explained to me how within five years they hope to have accuracy up to 100% and move away from wet electrodes to something you could stick in a baseball cap.

The current configuration uses just a few electrodes, but by increasing the number of these sensors, the team hopes to make it possible to recognize a much larger variety of commands, possibly enabling it to replace computer keyboards and even control your household appliances.

Equipped with your brainwave-reading baseball cap, turning on the lights or changing the TV channel would be no more than a thought away.

Thanks to Cichocki’s team, it may be indeed possible in the near future to quite literally put on one’s thinking cap.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Meyers


With the exponential growth of technology I would expect brain control devices to be operationally available and effective in the next 15 to 20 years.

Posted by Bill Murray | Report as abusive

Stephen Hawking would love this.

Posted by Anwar Bux | Report as abusive

interesting stuff

Posted by padma | Report as abusive

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