[AI] Two inventors turn human thought into action

Rajesh Asudani rajeshasudani at rbi.org.in
Mon Aug 13 02:12:14 EDT 2007

Two inventors turn human thought into action 

Anand Parthasarathy 

Signals tapped, to help physically challenged to speak, move 

- Photo: Anand Parthasarathy 
Thought-controlled wheel chair: The collar around Thomas Coleman's neck picks up nerve signals as he attempts to speak his thoughts - and converts them
into commands. 

Bangalore: The 17th century French mathematician Rene Descartes, said famously, "Cogito, ergo sum," "I think, therefore I am." A 21st century American student-inventor,
Michael Callahan, says "I think, therefore I move." 

Well, he may not have used those exact words - but Mr. Callahan and his co-inventor, Thomas Coleman, have unveiled technology that may soon tap human thought,
to control the movement of devices such as wheelchairs - and even enable speech-challenged persons to voice their thoughts. 

Dramatic entrance 

On Tuesday last, Mr. Coleman stunned a 5,000-strong audience of engineers in Austin, Texas, U.S., at the inaugural session of NIWeek, the annual developers'
conference of the test and measurement solutions player, National Instruments, by his dramatic entrance riding a wheel chair. The chair was propelled,
not by the any physical action by the occupant, but by signals tapped from a black collar attached to his throat. The system developed by Callahan and
Coleman, over the last three years is called "Audeo." It picks up the neurological signals generated by a person who wants to speak, move or perform any
other physical action - but is not able to do , due to a disability. It uses advanced processing techniques which translate these 'thoughts' into spoken
words or commands. Mr. Coleman's intention of turning the chair left or right were picked up from the nerve endings in his throat and "Audeo" converted
it into mechanical commands to the wheels. 

Mr. Callahan, then invited the keynote speaker, NI's senior vice-president for R&D, Tim Dehne, to don the collar and link himself to their equipment. He
was invited to try and say a few words - but stop short of mouthing them. "Audeo" interpreted the brain's signals, translated them into English ...and
a computer-synthesised voice came booming: "This is really cool!" 

Coleman and Callahan, dreamed up the idea of tapping human thought when they were studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and formed
a company, Ambient Corporation, in 2004 to take it further. 

Digital signal 

They used a digital signal processing chip from Texas Instruments and NI's flagship virtual instrumentation product, LabView, to translate the mathematical
algorithms into hardware. 

"We want to give the ability to communicate, to those challenged by diseases like cerebral palsy or by traumatic brain or spine injury," Mr. Callahan explained
to The Hindu. 

Why attach the sensor collar to the throat? "When you speak, the brain sends the signals to your throat. We found it easier to pick the signals here even
if the person is unable to speak, because the nerve endings are closer to the skin surface here than any where else, so we had less 'noise' in the signal,"
he said. 

The system showcased last week is still in a prototype stage and details for prospective manufacturing partners have been posted on the website 

The company is also taking the help of software tool providers such as NI as well as the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to refine the design and obtain
real feedback from physically challenged users. 

As they inch closer to the goal of a truly thought-reading machine, Coleman and Callahan, who are Chief Technology Officer and Chief Executive respectively,
of their start-up, Ambient, have already given a new - literal - meaning to the phrase, "speak your mind!" 

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