Pretty soon we’ll be controlling software with our brains
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June 13, 2014

There’s a famous scene in Back to the Future II, when Michael J. Fox tries to impress some kids from the future with his 1980s arcade game skills. But his talent for antique games fails to impress the youth of 2015. „You mean you have to use your hands?“, they sneer.

It turns out, we’re not far away from this vision of 2015. The Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics at the University of Malta has developed a brain-computer interface that allows any human to control software without using their hands.

RE.WORK speaker and biomedical engineer Owen Falzon talks to WebMagazin about the development of the world’s first brain-controlled music player.

WebMagazin: You’ve been studying brain responses for ten years now. What have you discovered?

Owen Falzon: During these years we have been researching new ways to analyse and extract useful information from complex brain signals acquired using electroencephalography.

We have developed methods to extract biomarkers in the context of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, worked on methods for the detection of specific signal patterns during sleep, and in recent years we have focused our attention on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

BCIs are systems that can provide a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device. In the context of BCIs we have developed algorithms that can extract richer information from brain signals in order to increase the accuracy and reliability of such systems.

WebMagazin: Tell us about your brain-controlled music player. How does it work?

Falzon: The brain-controlled music player we have developed provides the user with a hands-free system that is controlled directly with the user’s brain activity.

Think and click

The user is presented with a standard music player interface where each option is accompanied with an icon flashing at a particular frequency. Each of these flashing visual stimuli gives rise to a distinct pattern of electrical activity in the user’s brain.

When the user directs his attention to a particular icon, the brain patterns that are evoked are detected by the system and translated into commands for the music player.

WebMagazin: How long do you think it will be until the average user can control their device with their brain?

Falzon: The music player we have developed has been successfully tried and tested in a laboratory environment using high-end equipment.

We are currently working on the development of a portable low-cost version of the music player that can be operated on a mobile device. Subject to investor opportunities, we hope to take this product to market in the coming year.

Owen Falzon is speaking at the RE.WORK tech summit in Berlin, June 19-20.

a user controls a track by Moby with her brainA user controls a Moby track with the brain-computer interface © Owen Falzon


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