Here is an exciting blog article from Venkat at Assistive Technology blog. I am sharing this news because the prospective uses for the technology discussed below would overcome many obstacles that people with communication difficulties face everyday. I look forward to it being refined and put into common practical use!
Ever said “you read my mind!” to someone who said the same thing you were just about to say? Researchers at MIT are making this a reality. A new wearable invented at MIT, called AlterEgo, is a device that sits on your ear, loops behind it, and attaches to your face. What’s special about this device is that it recognizes non-verbal prompts – things that you are thinking in your mind, and responds to them. This wearable device also attaches to a computer system that translates your thoughts into a command that is understood by it, thus prompting a response.
There are certain locations on your face that generate neuromuscular signals when you think about something. Researchers working on AlterEgo worked on identifying those locations – first they found that 7 different location were consistently able to distinguish internal verbalization, and with more experiments, they started finding comparable results with just four locations, which meant that the wearable wasn’t going all over your face with electrodes and being intrusive. After identifying those signals, they sent them to a computer that could translate and analyze them, and eventually associating them with different words. The wearable responds, either in the form of an action, or in the form of an audible answer. For example, you may be looking at your Netflix screen on your TV and wanting to browse through all of the movies displayed. Just thinking “right” would make the Netflix screen to navigate to the next displayed movie. Similarly, just saying “what is the time?” to yourself in your mind will make the wearable say the time out loud to you. What’s also interesting is that the wearable uses bone conducting headphones which means that your ear is still available to you for any other conversation you may be having with another person. The researchers also tried it with a game of Chess (the user would just think about the opponent’s move and the wearable would respond by suggesting the next move), and with basic arithmetic operations.
Currently, AlterEgo has the accuracy of 92%, and responds to around 20 words. The researchers are confident that this wearable would learn more words with more training data, and would scale up very soon in the near future.
Of course, this wearable can be used by any non-verbal person, and someone who cannot operate a device (and control the device with just their thought), but other applications of this device could be communicating with others in extremely loud environments (air traffic personnel directing flights on the tarmac or at a concert) where there would be no need to speak – just your thoughts would be communicated to the other person!
Watch the video below to learn more about the current prototype and go to the source links to learn more about AlterEgo.