Imagine having a small bracelet on your wrist that could be controlled by your brain. What seems like something out of a sci-fi movie is no longer fiction, is happening now in CTRL-Labs. CTRL-Labs have developed an electronic bracelet which will allow mental control of computers.
CTRL-Lab and the CTRL-kit project
Founded in 2015, CTRL-Lab specializes in making brain-machine interfaces and this is one of their creations. The main concept is to use this wristband to translate mental activity in the brain into digital actions. CTRL-kit is the name given to the prototype that is being tested.
But, haven’t we seen this before? Very often you might have seen disabled or bedridden people directing the cursors on their computer screens with the help of their brain. The difference is, why you would want to have a chip implanted in your brain when all you need is to wear a simple bracelet. Thomas Reardon, CEO of CTRL-Labs says, “There’s nothing a chip in your brain can do that we can’t do better.” How does this work exactly? IF we take a look at the wristband, it is compact and lightweight. It is lined inside with electrodes. The main tech being used is called EMG or electromyography; which is basically a visual representation of the electrical activity of muscle tissue by electrodes attached to the skin. The electrodes measure the electrical pulses along the neurons.
How it works:
A practical demonstration done by the verge can give some insight into how it works. The user says the armband fit perfectly fine around his forearm. The computer screen showed a virtual hand that mimicked the real one wearing the band. It showed the same movements the real hand showed, on screen. Next, the user demonstrates how he keeps his hand closed and yet ‘imagines’ opening it. The hand on the screen opens although the real one is yet closed. The armband, therefore, motioned the signals the brain was making. Another demonstration made at CTRL-Labs showed how a single dot on the screen could be moved around by just imagining moving it around by hand-based interface. For the first try, it seems hard to control as the slightest movements would shoot the cursor around, but over time, it becomes easier.
The Pros and Cons
We can compare it to the more common EEG headsets. EEG headsets work on electroencephalography where the electrodes are placed along the scalp. The problem is the range of signals is broader and can be complicated at times. On the other hand, EMG armbands focus on clearer signals before the muscles can react to them. However, there are many challenges yet to overcome. For example, extra signals. The smallest hand movements or external vibrations could create extra, unwanted signals and could alter the result.
The main goal is making the armband process signals as precisely as possible. You can wear this around your arm or wrist, making it more comfortable. To Chad Bouton, director of Feinstein Institute of Medical Research, the EMG will prove to give better results to people suffering from paralysis, rather than normal people. Thomas Reardon believes brain implants are not efficient enough. A brain implant requires an invasive surgery, but that isn’t the only problem, the implant has to sort through a lot of brain activity to find the right signals and commands. On the other hand. EMG is faster as our arm neurons are already transmitting filtered signals at high speeds.
Why CTRL-Kit is better than getting a brain implant:
Simply put, CTRL-kit is giving better results using the same brain-computer interface without having to go through the problems of getting a brain implant. If we focus on the thought typing system Facebook created, it referenced a study where implants were made in the user’s brains. The users than ‘imagined’ pushing the cursor on the screen in front of them, the cursors moved without any actual movement but through the motor neuron activity which sent signals through the implant. The same can be done through CTRL-kit, without obviously the actual implant scenario.
There are many goals for CTRL-Labs to tackle. One of their demos that proved interesting was an air-typing program. The bands worked in a way that they used the users normal typing patterns and typed for them. Another goal is to use this armband to find an alternative to VR (Virtual Reality) tracking systems, which only show a limited view through the lens of a camera.
For one, if this prototype is perfected, it will prove to be highly beneficial for CTRL-Labs. Interfaces like brain implants are not what you’d go for in everyday life. But this is an interface everyone can use easily and doesn’t seem to be purely speculative. CTRL-Labs is proving this is highly genuine and can make breakthroughs never seen before in the near future.