What will they think of next? First, there was the brain-computer interface for controlling Second Life avatars, and yesterday I mentioned a gig in which the music is controlled by the audience’s brainwaves. Now, researchers from Austria and Slovenia have developed a device called Brainloop, which can be used to navigate in Google Earth:
Brainloop is an interactive performance platform that utilizes a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) system which allows a subject to operate devices merely by imagining specific motor commands. These mentally visualized commands may be seen as the rehearsal of a motor act without the overt motor output; a neural synapse occurs but the actual movement is blocked at the corticospinal level. Motor imagery such as “move left hand”, “move right hand” or “move feet” become non-muscular communication and control signals that convey messages and commands to the external world. In Brainloop the performer is able – without physically moving – to investigate urban areas and rural landscapes as he globe-trots around virtual Google Earth. Through motor imagery, he selects locations, camera angles and positions and records these image sequences in a virtual world. In the second half of the performance, he plays back the sequence and uses Brainloop to compose a custom soundtrack by selecting, manipulating and re-locating audio recordings in real time into the physical space.
That’s a very good description of how BCIs work, apart from the bit that says “a neural synapse occurs but the actual movement is blocked at the corticospinal level“.
Presumably, what they mean is that signals generated in the premotor cortex, which contains neurons involved in planning movements, are not transmitted to the primary motor cortex, which contains cells that descend into the spinal cord in the corticospinal tract, and which are involved in executing movements.
Pendantry aside, here’s a film clip of the Brainloop device in use:
[Via Ogle Earth]