Use The Force, Luke

Smirking Yoda -

These are probably some of the coolest things I’ve run across in a while, and they all have to do with using your mind to control things…

Now, most of us already use our mind to control things – like our arms and legs, but they’re of course connected to our brain through nerves and our spinal cord.

But, what about things that are not physically connected?  Well, this is where the cool stuff comes in…

In Rome, a group of European scientists say that they’ve successfully connected a robotic hand to a man who lost his arm.  He uses electrodes that are connected to his nervous system to enable him to move the arm using his brain.  Here’s the link to the Associated Press story…

I saw something like this on 60 Minutes a month or so ago, and they had another cool mindtrick technology that they showed off…

Brown University's BrainGate technology (image from www.boston.com)

Brown University's BrainGate technology (image from www.boston.com)

In that article, they showed off some technology that astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (who has ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) uses to communicate with the world.   A technology by scientists at Brown University called BrainGate lets a paralyzed patient focus their brain on certain letters on a computer screen.  When the letter that they are thinking of lights up, they are instructed to use their mind to say “yes, it’s lit up”.  The computer will recognize the difference in brain wave activity when the patient thinks of the letter and when the patient is not, so the computer would then be able to decide that the patient is thinking of, say, the letter “A”.

Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes was really amazed on the broadcast to see this technology in action – allowing people to use their minds to spell out words and sentences (here’s a video link to that article…)

In fact, I think that it’s so cool and important that I’ve asked my wife Stephanie to make sure that if I’m ever paralyzed that we look into using the technology.  I personally couldn’t imagine having my mind being fully active, but also being unable to communicate with anyone.  This seems like such an enabling and freeing technology that I would totally want to grab it if I could…

Star Wars Force Trainer (image from www.starwars.com)

Star Wars Force Trainer (image from www.starwars.com)

The last cool thing actually more a Christmas-related technology, but cool none the less.  It’s the Star Wars Force Trainer (I mean, how cool is that?!…).  With it, you put on a headset which has dry sensors that you apply to your head.  These sensors measure brain waves, such as alpha, beta, and theta waves – basically, different frequencies of brain wave patterns.  When the sensors measure certain patterns, the headset sends a wireless signal to a remote device that turns on a fan that pushes a ball up a cylinder.  The more you concentrate and give off the right brain wave signals, the higher the ball will go. 

So, you’re using your mind (or maybe it’s the Force) to push the ball up the cylinder (here’s a post on how the technology actually works…)

These technologies really make it seem like we’ll be using the Force soon, huh?  As my Smirking Yoda might say, “The Force a very powerful ally it is, mmm?”

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I currently serve as Vice President of Decision Science at CenturyLink. I've previously served as a leader in the Advanced Risk & Compliance Analytics (ARCA) practice at PwC and as Director of Data Science & Analytics Engineering at Areté Associates. I've served the public as Chair of the Thousand Oaks, CA Planning Commission. I have been married to my wife Stephanie since 1993, and we have a wonderful daughter Monroe. Learn more about me »

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