CTRL-Labs is a startup that is working diligently in the brain-machine interface, or BMI field. BMI is a type of interface that allows people to control computers using their brain and assistive technology. It could be a huge breakthrough for allowing people with disabilities to make better use of computers, for both work and fun.
It's not the first time we've seen functional technology demos in this space. Years back, OCZ actually demonstrated their NIA or Neural Impulse Actuator technology, but it never really took off. However, the BMI that CTRL-Labs is working on is pretty slick according to Wired, which was able to watch a few demos of the technology. In one demo, the user wears sensor-laden straps on each arm. Thomas Reardon of CTRL-Labs starts typing with a normal keyboard. Once the sensors are up and running, he pushes that keyboard away and is able to continue typing smoothly on the computer screen, while his fingers are actually typing on nothing.
The text seen on screen is generated by signals in his brain picked up by the sensors in the armbands as they are sent to his fingers from his brain. The tech is sensitive enough that it can actually pick up minute twitches of the fingers; this means a user wouldn't need full control of their hand to mimic normal typing, and in fact may not need to be able to move their fingers at all.
CTRL-Labs co-founder Patrick Kaifosh was able to use the tech to interface with his smartphone. In this demo, Kaifosh was able to use his brain to deftly and accurately control the ship in a game of Asteroids on his smartphone. To control the game all the player needed to do was make little motions with his fingers. There are other companies working on BMI, but some of that tech requires breaking the skin to insert electrodes into muscles and nerves or even drilling into the skull.
The tech that CTRL-Labs has created needs nothing invasive, and focuses on capturing the signals that control movement travelling through the spinal column. The team is focusing on making the sensors straps used with the tech smaller, by next year they hope the clunky arm straps will be more like a watch strap. While the tech might be used to allow people to interact with a computer in non-traditional ways, it is also being viewed as something that could change virtual reality for the better.
"When I see these announcements about brain-scanning techniques and the obsession with the disembodied-head-in-a-jar approach to neuroscience, I just feel like they are missing the point of how all new scientific technologies get commercialized, which is relentless pragmatism." said Reardon, "We are looking for enriched lives, more control over things over things around us, [and] more control over that stupid little device in your pocket—which is basically a read-only device right now, with horrible means of output."
Reardon wants his tech to be in use by millions of people in the next three to four years. Such tech could usher in an era where we interact with smartphones and other devices using nothing but hand movements and tiny movements of our fingers, rather than with tiny and sometimes hard-to-use on-screen keyboards as we do now.