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What is a Brain-Computer Interface and how does it work?
A Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a system that allows a user to control a computer using their brain signals.
The brain signals are measured by electrodes that are placed on the head, on the brain surface, or in the brain itself.
These brain signals are then sent to a computer. The computer is programmed to recognize the brain signals that correspond to specific movements, for example attempting to move a hand. When the user tries to move his or her hand, the computer will recognize this signal and transfer it in to a mouse click.
By thinking about moving the hand at the right time, the user can for example select the desired letters in a spelling pogram. This way people with severe paralysis can communicate (again), without having to move their muscles.
Who can use a BCI?
Our research group currently develops BCIs for people who have severe communication issues due to severe paralysis, for example people with late-stage ALS.
What can a BCI do?
People with severe paralysis and communication issues can use a BCI to communicate via a computer. With a BCI, they can type letters or sentences, or scroll through a website. In the UMC Utrecht we study how we can optimize this form of communication.
Internationally, research is done amongst others about controlling robotic arms using a BCI. Research is being done on different ways how a BCI can be used, for example to aid rehabilitation after stroke.
A BCI could also be used by abled individuals: there are companies that for example try to develop a BCI for videogames.
Why is more research necessary?
To further improve BCIs more research is needed on the brain and the techniques behind BCIs. Our research group tries to better understand what brain signals look like when somebody attempts movements.
There are also many technological developments that need to be researched.
Because BCIs are still new, we also want to hear from BCI-users how we can improve BCIs. In addition, we want to research how we can ensure that a BCI does not only perform well in a lab, but also at the home of the user.