In the one-upmanship going on between device makers, Samsung is trying to move straight to the endgame. The device maker's Emerging Technology Lab is working with the University of Texas to develop a thought control interface.
The joint project uses a cloth cap with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to control interaction on tablets and smartphones, including the company's Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. Samsung is aiming the technology at users with disabilities, but reports indicate that the interface could be taken mainstream. Samsung is working with Roozbeh Jafari, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas, Dallas.
The EEG cap measures electrical activity in the scalp. Users focus on a specific icon that is flashing at a given frequency, and the system can detect when the brain's electrical patterns are reacting to that frequency. Different frequencies convey different patterns, and the researchers say they currently have an 80 percent to 95 percent response accuracy. The system can respond quickly enough to enable a user to make a selection as fast as every five seconds.
The current research is focusing on the ability to launch an application, choose a song or turn a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet on and off. The research has successfully demonstrated the ability to open applications by concentrating on one of the blinking icons.
The researchers said they planned to develop a detector component that was easier to use all day long than a cap with electrodes and wires, such as a hat, but there was no indication as to a timeline for commercialization of the research. No manufacturing prototype has been created.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said the "possibilities for technology like this are endless" beyond the niche market of helping those with disabilities, although she cautioned that real-world use was still many years off.
There's been an explosion of new-to-market products and research in computer control that go far beyond mouse, keyboard and touchscreen. Siri and other intelligent voice agents are pioneering intelligent voice control, and Leap Motion, Microsoft's Kinect and others are leading the way for in-the-air gestural control.
Other experiments in thought control, beyond Samsung's, have also been moving that technology forward. Earlier this month, for instance, a research team at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information presented their findings in using brainwaves of subjects who are thinking of a song, an image or other mental imaging.
A sensor on the subject's forehead detects the unique brainwaves of that specific image or song, which are then identified and used as a "passthought," or mental password. The researchers utilized a commercially available headset, the Neurosky MindSet, that retails for $100 and transmits the patterns via Bluetooth to a computer. The researchers noted that, except for the EEG sensor, the headset is otherwise "indistinguishable from a conventional Bluetooth headset" that is used with phones or music players.