BCIs Go for the Scalp
The brain-computer interface has been one of the most significant and attention-drawing developments in the young history of the neurotechnology industry. Although there are still a relatively small number of users who have been implanted with a BCI, the field has spawned at least two commercial endeavors—Cyberkinetics Inc. and Neural Signals—and generated an enormous amount of press coverage.
But implanted microelectrodes are not the only means of constructing a viable BCI. As we report in our article on page 1 of this issue, investigators in Europe have recently made progress developing a BCI based on EEG recording from dry electrodes placed on the scalp.
The German teams are not the only groups pursuing surface-based BCI systems. Jonathan Wolpaw’s group at the Wadsworth Center in New York State has been working in this area for many years. But the recently reported progress in both dry electrode implementation and zero-training data analysis promises to hasten the availability of commercial devices.
And we expect these less-invasive BCI systems to reach the market more readily than their predecessors based on implanted microelectrodes. We also expect to see a wider range of applications for the devices, including nonmedical applications in simulation, training, defense, and aerospace markets. While the idea of wearing an electrode cap or headpiece containing 64 or more electrodes may not excite a lot of casual users of the new technology, in the case of military, aerospace, or training applications, it may be much easier to integrate the sensors with existing headgear or helmets.
Of course the success of EEG-based BCIs would not spell doom for vendors of implanted systems. Particularly as it relates to integrating BCI control into neuroprosthetic devices for severely paralyzed individuals, the added control and performance capabilities would be worth the additional cost and level of invasiveness. And for individuals with neurological diseases and disorders who might already be undergoing brain surgery for DBS, cortical stimulation, or other procedures, the incremental invasiveness of one or more sensing electrodes might be minimal.
But for the larger potential user base of scalp-mounted BCI systems, the ability to interact with an external device in a dramatically more natural and automatic manner is profoundly alluring. We expect that progress made with early systems used in clinical applications will spill over nicely into products intended for nonmedical markets.
Editor and Publisher