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All Brain, No Hands Cell Phone

Audio

Aired 4/15/11

Consider it the most extreme hands-free call you can make.

— New wireless technology uses brain waves to dial up a friend on a cell phone.

In very simple terms, it works like this:

A student tests a new brain-wave cell phone app.

Above: A student tests a new brain-wave cell phone app.

First, the user puts on a wireless headband or hat embedded with electrodes that read brain activity.

Next, the caller looks at a series of numbers that flicker at different rates on a computer screen. When focused upon, each number causes a slightly different brain wave pattern

The cell phone decodes the brain waves associated with those numbers and places the call.

Neuroscience researcher Tzyy-Ping Jung, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the University of San Diego developed the system.

“It’s trying to provide a direct pathway to bypass motor control to command exterior devices,” said Jung.

The cell program is a type of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) system is a rapidly expanding scientific field where researchers are finding ways to use thought patterns to command computers and mechanical devices like artificial limbs.

The cell-phone technology could be beneficial to quadriplegics, or those with other severe physical disabilities.

Jung said because his cell phone electrodes are wireless, the program is easy to use and faster than most BCI systems.

“In less than a minute you’re connected and you can do a lot, like experiments, or you can control things, or do video games with just your brain activity,” explained Jung.

In various trial groups, the cell-phone users were about 85 percent accurate in dialing a 10-digit phone number.

Jung said the cell-phone application could be on the market within the next few years.

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