BRAIN COMPUTER INTERFACE
computer interfaces (BCIs) enable users to control devices with
electroencephalographic (EEG) activity from the scalp or with single
neuron activity from within
the brain. Both methods have disadvantages: EEG has limite
d resolution and requires extensive
training, while single
neuron recording entails significant clinical risks and has limited stability.
We demonstrate here for the first time that electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity recorded from
the surface of the bra
in can enable users to control a one
dimensional computer cursor rapidly
and accurately. We first identified ECoG signals that were associated with different types of
motor and speech imagery. Over brief training periods of 3
24 min, four patients then use
signals to master closed
loop control and to achieve success rates of 74
100% in a one
dimensional binary task. Our results suggest that an ECoG
based BCI could provide for people
with severe motor disabilities a non
muscular communication and cont
rol option that is more
powerful than EEG
based BCIs and is potentially more stable and less traumatic than BCIs that
use electrodes penetrating the brain. In additional open
loop experiments, we found that ECoG
signals at frequencies up to 180 Hz encoded
substantial information about the direction of two
dimensional joystick movements.
Man machine interface has been one of the growing fields of research and
development in recent years. Most of the effort has been ded
icated to the design of user
or ergonomic systems by means of innovative interfaces such as voice recognition, virtual
reality. A direct brain
computer interface would add a new dimension to man
computer interface, sometimes called a direct neural interface or a brain
machine interface, is a direct communication pathway between a human or animal brain(or brain
cell culture) and an external device. In one BCIs, computers either accept comman
ds from the
brain or send signals to it but not both. Two way BCIs will allow brains and external devices to
exchange information in both directions but have yet to be successfully implanted in animals or
Computer interface is a staple of sci
ence fiction writing. In its earliest
incarnations no mechanism was thought necessary, as the technology seemed so far fetched that
no explanation was likely. As more became known about the brain however, the possibility has
become more real and the scienc
e fiction more technically sophisticated. Recently, the
cyberpunk movement has adopted the idea of 'jacking in', sliding 'biosoft' chips into slots
implanted in the skull(Gibson,W.1984).Although such biosofts are still science fiction, there
have been seve
ral recent steps toward interfacing the brain and computers. In this definition, the
word brain means the brain or nervous system of an organic life form rather than the mind.
Computer means any processing or computational device, from simple circuits to s
(including hypothetical future technologies like quantum computing). Research on BCIs has
been going on for more than 30 years but from the mid 1990’s there has been dramatic increase
working experimental implants. The common thread throughout
the research is the remarkable
plasticity of the brain, which often adapts to BCIs treating prostheses controlled by
implants and natural limbs. With recent advances in technology and knowledge, pioneering
researches could now conceivably attempt
to produce BCIs that augment human functions rather
than simply restoring them, previously only the realm of science fiction. Fig. 1.1: Schematic
diagram of a BCI system
Brain Computer Interface
What is a Brain Computer Interface? As mentioned in the preface a BCI represents a direct
interface between the brain and a computer or any other system. BCI is a broad concept and
comprehends any communication between the brain and a machine in b
oth directions: effectively
opening a completely new communication channel without the use of any peripheral nervous
system or muscles.
In principle this communication is thought to be two way. But present day BCI is mainly
focusing on communication from
the brain to the computer. To communicate in the other
direction, inputting information in to the brain, more thorough knowledge is required concerning
the functioning of the brain. Certain systems like implantable hearing
devices that convert sound
to electrical signal which in turn directly stimulate the hearing organ already exist today.
These are the first steps. The brain on the other hand is on a whole other complexity level
compared to the workings of the inner ear.
From here on the focus is on
communication directly from the brain to the computer.
Most commonly the electrical activity (fields) generated by the neurons is measured, this
measuring technique is known as EEG (Electroencephalography). An EEG
based BCI system
measures specific featur
es of the EEG
activity and uses these as control signals.
Over the past 15 years the field of BCI has seen a rapidly increasing development rate
and obtained the interest of many research groups all over the world. Currently in BCI
the main focus
is on people with severe motor disabilities. This target group has little (other)
means of communication and would be greatly assisted by a system that would allow control by
Basic BCI layout.
The concept of thinking is perhaps too broa
d a concept and can actually better be replaced by
generating brain patterns. The general picture of a BCI thus becomes that the subject is actively
involved with a task which can be measured and recognized by the BCI. This task consists of the
evoked attention, spontaneous mental performance or mental imagination. The BCI
then converts the ‘command’ into input control for a device (see figure 1.1).
This is the basic idea. With the continuously increasing knowledge of the brain and
advances in B
CI over time, perhaps BCI will be able to extract actual intentions and thoughts.
This however does not appear to be on the cards for the very near future.
The nature of EEG
The reasons for selecting EEG as a measurement method of brain activit
y are based on the
ease of appliance, portability, excellent time resolution and the financial picture. From all the
options available, ranging from among others: MRI, PET, MEG to EEG, EEG is the cheapest
variant and requires neither professional training
nor the personnel to apply it. It consists of a cap
of simple electrodes (10
20 system consisting of over 20 electrodes is used at the TUD, see
figure 1.2) covering the cortex of the brain on the scalp.
One of the main advantages of EEG is that it gives an
excellent temporal resolution
(milliseconds range); any change in brain dynamics will be registered almost instantaneous. On
the other hand the biggest disadvantage compared to other methods is the very poor spatial
resolution (centimeter range), which ma
kes it hard to locate the exact location of the activity.
Aside from the fact that the skull causes spatial smearing of the signal, two third of any
activity generated by the neurons is lost due to misalignment of the firing neurons and the fact
that any a
ctivity can only be measured on the surface of the cortex, which leaves out the majority
of the neurons, since the voltages being measured are extremely low.
The EEG and therefore the combined activity from the neurons are characterized by high
in the signal and large amounts of noise and artifacts. This does not only impose the
need for heavy data processing but also makes it more difficult to predict and model the signal.
Basic BCI elements
BCI consists of several distinct
elements (see figure 1.1). All these elements combined
make up the BCI. Basically the system consists of two adaptive controllers; on the one hand
there is the user that generates the commands via electrophysiological input to the BCI. And on
the other han
d the BCI that recognizes the commands and expresses these as output device
In this BCI overview each element will be explained to such a level that the reader knows
what its functions are and why it is required. As well as views on different app
problems that arises in designing and implementing a BCI.
BCI can be decomposed into four basic elements:
The input, measuring the activity from the human brain.
The signal pre
processing, the first step of acquiring usable signals by amplifica
applying filters and reducing noise and artifacts of the input signals.
The translation algorithm, this step compromises
which extracts the
most valuable signals from the processed input. And
which tries to
lassify the features into usable output for the next step.
The output, from the classification is used as a control signal for various applications.
The goal is to acquire knowledge of the intentions of the user either consciously or
onsciously by means of measurement of brain activity. This goal can be achieved in various
ways, but it all starts with the brain and thus with the most basic element of the brain: the neuron
A neuron is a cell that uses biochemical re
actions to receive process and transmit
information. It consists of the cell body (Soma) in which the cell core (Nucleus) resides (see
figure 2.1). Each neuron has one axon; this is a long ‘cable’
like part of the neuron which is used
to reach other neuron
s. The soma of a neuron is branched out into dendrites to which axon
from other neurons connect.
The dendrites are not in actual physical contact with the axons of other neurons; a small cleft
exists between them: the synaptic gap. This is the
location where the impulse is transferred.
Overview of the neuron
When a neuron fires, it sends signals to all the neurons that are connected to its axon via the
dendrites. The dendrites can be connected to thousands of axons; all incoming signals comb
are added through spatial and temporal summation. If the aggregate input reaches a certain
threshold, the neuron will fire and send a signal along its own axon. The strength of this output
signal is always the same, no matter the magnitude of the inpu
This single signal of a neuron is very weak. The numerous neurons in the brain are constantly
active. The generated activity can be measured. It appears to be impossible to measure the
individual activity of every neuron. Moreover it is questionable wh
ether it would be a real gain,
since neurons work in groups to achieve a certain goal. The activity from a group of neurons
however can be measured. For the signals of neurons to be visible using EEG in particular, a
couple of conditions need to be met, wh
ich are summarized schematically in figure 2.2:
The electrical activity of the neuron must be perpendicular to the scalp in order for the
EEG to fully pick up the field.
A large number of neurons must fire parallel to each other.
The neurons must fire in s
ynchrony with the same polarity, in order not to cancel each
cut of the head: only the green neuronal activity can be measured using EEG.
Because of these requirements the larger part of the total neuronal activity remains invisible for
Combining about 100 billion neurons results in what is called the human brain.
The brain consists of the following elements
is an important relay station. It controls the reflexes and automatic functions, like
eart rate and blood pressure and also sleep control.
integrates information about position and movement from the vestibular
system to coordinate limb movement and maintaining equilibrium.
brain: amongst others the Hypothalamus and
functions, body temperature and behavioral functions like, the body’s appetite, sleep
patterns, the sexual drive and response to anxiety, aggression and pleasure.
The Cerebrum (or cerebral cortex)
receives and integrates information from all of the
sense organs and controls the motor functions. Furthermore it contains the higher cerebral
functions like: language, cognitive functions and memories. Emotions are also processed
in the cerebrum.
in overview, the Hypothalamus is localized in the center of the brainand not depicted here; image from “Heart
and Stroke Foundation”.
The cortex of the cerebrum is part of the brain which is of the most interest for BCI. It is
responsible for the higher o
rder cognitive tasks and is near the surface of the scalp. In addition
that functionality in the brain appears to be highly local.
The cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. The left halve senses and
controls the right half of the body a
nd vice versa. Each hemisphere can be divided into four
lobes, the frontal, the parietal, the occipital and the temporal (see figure 2.3). The cortex can also
by divide in certain areas each of which is specialized for a different function. Especially the
sensorimotor cortex is important for BCI. Over this part the entire human body is represented.
The size of area corresponds with the importance and complexity of movement of that particular
Homunculus: body drawn over sensorimotor cortex
light of BCI it is important to know in advance in which area to search for activity both
spatially and in the frequency domain.
Brain activity measurement
To measure activity in the brain, several different approaches can be applied. Because different
phenomena can be measured in different ways: ranging from direct measures like detecting the
electrical currents or magnetic fields to indirect measures like measuring metabolism or blood
Overview of the spatial/time resolution of various measureme
Here follows a list of the most commonly used methods (see figure 2.5 for an overview of
the spatial and time resolution of the mentioned methods).
, Electroencephalography involves recording the (very weak) electrical field
generated by action potentials of neurons in the brain using small metal electrodes. The
advantages of EEG are the high temporal resolution and (the possibility of) non
measurement. Low spatial resolution, caused by spatial smearing of the skull a
variability in the EEG signal are disadvantages.
involves the e
lectrophysiology of extra
Has both high temporal as good spatial resolution. It is a form of invasive EEG where
electrodes are placed direc
tly on the brain. This technique is invasive and therefore
requires expensive surgery and comes with significant safety risks for the patient.
, Positron Emission Tomography indirectly measures metabolism on a cellular level
by tracking injected radioac
tive isotopes. It is based on the principle that in areas of
increased activity the metabolism is on a higher level and more isotopes are supplied by
the blood flow. This knowledge can be used to determine which areas are generating
activity. Good spatial
resolution is an advantage of PET. The really bad temporal
resolution (about 2 minutes) is a distinct disadvantage. This is due to the fact that
metabolism is a relatively slow process. Moreover ionizing radiation makes this method
harmful for the human bo
dy and thus unusable for applications like BCI.
, magneto encephalography directly measures the cortical magnetic fields produced
by electrical currents. This method is non
invasive and has good spatial and temporal
resolution. However the equipment is
extremely expensive and due to the very weak
magnetic fields requires a very impractical isolation/shielding room (cage of Faraday).
time properties for analysis are poor.
, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging provides information on brain m
using BOLD (Blood Oxygen Level Dependent). fMRI uses strong fluctuating magnetic
field to measure the whereabouts of dipoles . The advantages are good spatial
resolution and the non
invasiveness. But the temporal resolution is poor (about one
second) and this method requires very expensive equipment and procedures.
infrared light penetrates the human head to sufficient depths to allow
functional mapping of the cerebral cortex. Changes in tissue oxygenation cause
modulation of absorp
tion and scattering of photons, which can be measured . NIR
can measure two responses.
The slow response corresponds with the attenuation changes due to cerebral
The fast response could be used for BCI and is due to changes in scatteri
properties. This response has a good temporal resolution, but is not yet feasible.
To date the only experimental setup that has been used uses the slow response, which has
a poor temporal resolution. Advantages of optical techniques: no interference,
electrically isolated, non
ionizing and no gel is required. Overall this looks
like a promising technique.
Selecting a measurement method
The best brain measurement method would have a high spatial and temporal
resolution, be very
cheap, portable and easy to apply non
invasively. This method does not (yet) exists.
Of all methods listed in the previous section, EEG is by far the most commonly used in
BCI. The prime reason for this is the excellent temporal resolut
ion which is a necessity for real
time BCI. And although the spatial data resulting from EEG is often distorted and far from
perfect, EEG offers direct functional correlation of brain activity.
Another major plus is the ease of applying this method. With
a cap containing only a few
electrodes measurements can start. For practical uses and applications it is small and relatively
portable, which improves prospects of future applications Aside from the ease of appliance, this
is also a relatively low
thod, certainly compared to methods like PET, MEG or MRI,
which require expensive equipment and skilled professionals to operate.
Subject one with EEG cap.
Although EEG is the most commonly used, this does not mean that others methods are
not feasible. With the continuous improvement of the techniques involved, they can become a
viable option in the future; like for instance Near Infrared measurement.
EEG comes in two flavors; the most commonly used in BCI is the non
invasive variant. The
electrode is placed on the scalp. The obvious advantage is that it can be safely applied to anyone
at any moment without a lot of preparation.
The second variant is the invasive EEG. Instead of attaching the electrode on the skull, it
is placed inside. The
advantage of this variant is the higher spatial resolution obtained by it. With
invasive EEG, the skull causes significant spatial smearing of the measured activity: leading
to more difficult localization of the original signal, which degrades the qua
lity of the signal.
Invasive electrodes offer the possibility to locate activity far more precise. The obvious
drawback is that surgery is required to implant the electrodes. This comes with safety risks and
high costs compared to non
invasive EEG. For app
lication there must be large gain from the
increased accuracy to validate invasive EEG on human subjects.
Dummy unit illustrating the design of a Brain Gate interface
is a brain implant
system developed by the bio
company Cyberkinetics in 2003 in conjunction with the
Department of Neuroscience at Brown University. The device was designed to help those who
have lost control of their limbs, or other bodily functions, such as patients with amyotrophic
(ALS) or spinal cord injury. The computer chip, which is implanted into the
brain, monitors brain activity in the patient and converts the intention of the user into computer
commands. Currently the chip uses 100 hair
thin electrodes that sense the electr
signature of neurons firing in specific areas of the brain, for example, the area that controls arm
movement. The activities are translated into electrically charged signals and are then sent and
decoded using a program, which can move either a r
obotic arm or a computer cursor. According
to the Cyberkinetics' website, three patients have been implanted with the Brain Gate system.
The company has confirmed that one patient (Matt Nagle) has a spinal cord injury, whilst
another has advanced ALS.
sion of Computer Science and Engineering, SOE, CUSAT
Brain Computer Interface
In addition to real
time analysis of neuron patterns to relay movement,
Brain gate array is also capable of recording electrical data for later analysis. A potential use
of this feature would be for a neurologist to study seizure patterns in a patient with epilepsy.
Cyberkinetics has a vision, CEO Tim Surgenor explained to Gizmag, but it is not promising
"miracle cures", or that quadriplegic people will be able to walk aga
yet. Their primary goal is
to help restore many activities of daily living that are impossible for paralysed people and to
provide a platform for the development of a wide range of other assistive devices.
quadriplegic people are satisfied if t
hey get a rudimentary connection to the outside world. What
we're trying to give them is a connection that is as good and fast as using their hands. We're
going to teach them to think about moving the cursor using the part of the brain that usually
s the arms to push keys and create, if you will, a mental device that can input information
into a computer. That is the first application, a kind of prosthetic, if you will. Then it is possible
to use the computer to control a robot arm or their own arm,
but that would be down the road."
Existing technology stimulates muscle groups that can make an arm move. The problem
Surgenor and his team faced were in creating an input or control signal. With the right control
signal they found they could stimulate the
right muscle groups to make arm movement.
"Another application would be for somebody to handle a tricycle or exercise machine
to help patients who have a lot of trouble with their skeletal muscles. But walking, I have to say,
would be ve
ry complex. There are a lot of issues with balance and that's not going to be an easy
thing to do, but it is a goal." Cyberkinetics hopes to refine the Brain Gate in the next two years to
develop a wireless device that is completely implantable and doesn't
have a plug,
Computer Science and Engineering, SOE, CUSAT
Brain Computer Interface
making it safer
and less visible. And once the basics of brain mapping are worked out there is potential for a
wide variety of further applications, Surgenor
explains. "If you could detect or predict the onset
of epilepsy that would be a huge therapeutic application for people who have seizures, which
leads to the idea of a 'pacemaker for the brain'. So eventually people may have this technology in
and if something starts to go wrong it will take a therapeutic action. That could be
available by 2007 to 2008." Surgenor also sees a time not too far off where normal humans are
interfacing with Brain Gate technology to enhance their relationship with th
e digital world
they're willing to be implanted. "If we can figure out how to make this device cheaper, there
might be applications for people to control machines, write software or perform intensive
actions. But that's a good distance away. Right now
the only way to get that level of detail from
these signals is to actually have surgery to place this on the surface of the brain. It's not possible
to do this with a non
invasive approach. For example, you can have an EEG and if you
concentrate really ha
rd you can think about and move a cursor on a screen, but if someone makes
a loud noise or you get interrupted, you lose that ability. What we're trying to make here is a
direct connection. The [Brain Gate] is going to be right there and you won't have to
The Brown University group was partially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA), the central research and development organization for the US Department of
Defense (DoD). DARPA has been interested in Brain
MI) for a number
of years for military applications like wiring fighter pilots directly to their planes to allow
autonomous flight from the safety of the ground. Future developments are also envisaged in
which humans could 'download' memory implants for sk
ill enhancement, allowing actions to be
performed that have not been learned directly.
After we go through the various techniques of BCI the first question
that comes to our mind is,
what does BCI do to us and what are its applications.
BCI in today’s time turns useful to us in
many ways. Whether it is
any medical field
a field leading to enhancement of human
Some of the BCI applications are discussed below.
Adaptive BCI for Augmented Cognition and Action
offers paralyzed patients improved quality of life
The Mental Typewriter
time adaptive interfaces with sub
second latency are being designed to
evaluate this concept of an adaptive brain
computer interface in three specific ap
Error and conflict perception
Working memory encoding
Rapid visual recognition
Experimental Brain Computer Interface Software for the Modular
EEG (The ABI software)
ABI is simple software for the
Modular EEG that implements an
Computer Interface (BCI). Nowadays, BCI research is an highly
active field, but the existing
technology is still immature for its use outside of a lab's
settings. The ABI software tries to
provide a simple
tool for hobbyists to do
experiments on its own with BCI technology.
Work of the software:
The ABI is a BCI based on trials. A trial is a time interval where the user generates
brainwaves to perform an action. The BCI tries to process this signa
l and to associate it to a
given class. The association is done by feeding a neural net with the
preprocessed EEG data. The
neural net's output is then further processed and this final
output corresponds to the given class.
The neural net should be trained
in order to
learn the association.
Division of Computer Science
and Engineering, SOE, CUSAT
Brain Computer Interface
The classifier's idea is heavily
based on Christin Schäfer's design (winner of the BCI
Competition II, Motor Imaginery Trials).
software allows you to
Do simple Biofeedback. You can display raw EEG channels,
frequency amplitudes and classes.
Record trials for a number of
choices of different classes.
Train the interface.
The classification achieved by this software:
The method has been previously applied to the data provided by the BCI
Competition II data
(dataset III, Graz University, Motor Imaginary) and compared
against the results obtained by the
contributors. The me
results achieved by them, obtaining a higher
Mutual Information (which was the
criterion used in the competition) of 0.67 bits (the winner of
the competition obtained
Of course, it is very important that more people t
report its results to improve the method. Statistical stability can only be guaranteed
more people try it out.
Computer Interface (BCI) is a method of communication based on voluntary neural
activity generated by the brain and independent of its normal output pathways of peripheral
nerves and muscles. The neural activity used in BCI can be recorded using
Noninvasive techniques. We can say as detection techniques and experimental designs improve,
the BCI will improve as well and would provide wealth alternatives for individuals to Interact
with their environment.