One of the saddest things with having a family member unconscious is the inability to talk or communicate in any meaningful way. Moreover, these patients can’t express any decision, and it’s often left on the family to decide if they live or not.
Fortunately, a new brain-computer interface (BCI) technology will soon change that. A team at the Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, developed a new technology that can help unconscious people communicate with the “outside world.”
“Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are becoming increasingly popular as a tool to improve the quality of life of patients with disabilities. Recently, time-resolved functional near-infrared spectroscopy (TR-fNIRS) based BCIs are gaining traction because of their enhanced depth sensitivity,” said Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist and a professor at the University.
Basically, a brain-computer interface can read brain activity and find patterns for different words. In a way, the computer can speak for the person, only by connecting to the brain. The method developed by Owen and his team uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy.
This technology reads the near-infrared temperature readings from the brain, which makes it much safer than similar brain-interface methods. More accurately, the technology can read the increase in blood oxygen levels in various parts of the brain.
The team at the University of Western Ontario included the time-resolved fNIRS detection method (TR-fNIRS) in its brain-computer interface. This technology works with photons, which stimulate a screen to light up. As a result of that, the TR-fNIRS can make a 3D map of the brain.
More accurately, the computer can detect the timing of the photon’s arrival. Those that arrive later come from deeper regions of the brain, while those that arrive sooner are from the surface.
The team trained its brain-computer interface system on healthy and conscious individuals. Before starting the testing, the researchers told the subjects to think of playing tennis as a “yes” answer, and being relaxed as a “no” answer.
What they found is that an increase in oxyhemoglobin and decrease in deoxyhemoglobin when the subjects answered with “yes,” since those things naturally happen when someone has a physical activity. On the other hand, “No” answers didn’t make any changes to the levels.
Nevertheless, this new BCI technology still isn’t ready for prime time. The scientists say that more research is needed since the technology might sometimes evoke wrong interpretations.