One of the prominent companies in the field of brain-computer interface (BCI) right now is Guger Technologies (g.tec), headquartered in Austria. The company was highlighted at last month’s ISSAC conference because of its innovative developments in assistive technology. Tech Medical Engineering was developed in 2004 as a subsidiary of Guger Technologies Electrical Engineering. In 2009, the company developed the world’s first personal BCI speller.
g.tec introduced IntendiX in 2009 as a personal BCI that can be used by anyone without the need for technical instruction or external support. This made the system unique, because it was one of the first with the ability to operate in hospital or home environments.
Because IntendiX can utilize either P300 or SSVEP paradigms, it is accessible to just about anyone who has healthy eyesight. Whichever paradigm is selected, the user must concentrate on a specific area of the monitor, where letters flash. The user then counts each time a target symbol flashes. The system identifies the target item by analyzing which flashes stimulated brain signals, signifying that attention has been directed to them, and trigger the desired command or response such as typing a message.
After about 10 minutes of practice, most users were able to spell five to 10 characters per minute. This makes it perfect for people with locked-in syndrome or other motor disabilities. As well as typing, IntendiX can also be used to convert text to speech, copy, print or email and trigger alarms.
This is g.tec’s latest BCI system. It makes a significant advance on the IntendiX because it is a wireless system and, as such, presents greater potential in usability. The device is lightweight and small enough to be attached directly to the EEG cap, permitting the user to move around freely. The system has a built-in lithium ion battery, which allows the user up to 10 hours of continuous use. The battery can be recharged using the contactless charging pad, and is usually completely re-charged within three hours.
The g.Nautilus has a small base station that connects to a PC via USB port. This receives information wirelessly. Up to eight digital trigger lines may be connected to the receiver box in order to record event timing. The device is completely waterproof, which makes it even more user-friendly because the electrodes can be cleaned at the same time as the cap.
g.tec’s Ongoing Research
g.tec is continuing research and development within the field of BCI assistive technology. One of the company’s other cutting edge projects involves ALIAS—the Adaptable Ambient Living Assistant. This is a mobile robotic system designed to help the elderly. ALIAS can be controlled using BCI to aid communications, provide stimulation and assist with the operation of lighting, air conditioning and appliances. ALIAS can also be used to monitor the users vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance level, and it reminds the user when it’s time to take medications.
The BackHome project is designed to help individuals who suffer from motor disabilities resulting from strokes, trauma or disease. BCI technology is employed to help such patients return to their home environment and accomplish tasks independently without the need for full-time caregivers.
BackHome provides an interactive service that enables the user to have full access to Internet facilities, such as browsing, media, email and social media. The system is completely user-friendly and can easily be adapted to suit individual users’ needs and abilities.
g.tec’s BRAINABLE is a BCI network that trains people with motor disabilities to use neural interfaces to connect with their surrounding environments and social media. The interaction with social media is part of a rehabilitative program that enables users to track their health and interact with online communities comprised of people with shared interests and similar physical and mental health conditions. In this way, they do not feel isolated and confined to their homes.
Brain-machine systems are being used today in many areas of assistive technology, including communications, movement of artificial limbs, and even in the operation of humanoid robots. g.tec is definitely a company to keep an eye on for cutting edge BCI development.
Header image credit: Ning