The Mind Speller is an electro-encephalogram (EEG) based device that interprets brain waves to spell words and phrases. It detects and interprets P300 event-related potentials in the EEG-signals of a person that is selecting characters from a display presenting alternate rows and columns of characters. P300 potentials are often used as metrics of cognitive function in decision making processes. However, currently available P300 devices are large, expensive and uncomfortable in use.
The Mind Speller, on the other hand, uses a portable device, not larger than a matchbox, connected to a cap that contains electrodes located at specific positions on the head to capture the relevant EEG-signals. The electronics in the matchbox are developed by Imec and Holst Centre. It contains Imec and Holst Centre's proprietary ultra-low power 8-channel EEG-chip to process the EEG signals, a commercially available low power microcontroller that digitizes the EEG signals and a low power 2.4GHz radio that transmits the EEG signals wirelessly to a nearby PC. The data is interpreted on the PC by powerful and robust signal processing algorithms developed by the team of Professor Marc Van Hulle at the lab of neuro- and psychophysiology of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
Currently, accurate solutions are available on the market to help people to communicate despite severe impairments. These solutions rely on either eye-tracking technology or laser pointing. However, they are subject to long and vulnerable calibration procedures and they are very expensive due to the technology used and the need for tailor-made solutions.
"The Mind Speller is a generic device that can easily be adjusted to different users. Therefore, it could become a cost-efficient communication solution for people with temporal impairments for whom the existing solutions are too expensive. Moreover, the Mind Speller may help those patients that are not helped with the existing devices driven by motoric activity, as the Mind Speller is based on a different principle, using P300 EEG potentials to read people's 'thoughts'", stated Professor Marc Van Hulle from the lab of neuro- and psychophysiology at the Katholieke Universiteit.
"With a much simpler design, relying on a power-efficient on-chip implementation, the Mind Speller is the first step in the development of a generic, easy-to-wear, accurate and cost-efficient communication solution for people with motoric disabilities", stated Chris Van Hoof, Programme Director Human++ at Imec. "Currently, we are adapting the electronics to work with dry electrodes making the system even more unobtrusive."
The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U. Leuven) was founded in 1425. Currently, the K.U.Leuven has an annual research budget of about 300 million euro, over 3000 PhD students - of which more than 25 percent international, over 470 doctoral degrees per year - of which more than 25 percent international, over 5100 researchers - measured in full-time equivalent, over 3600 publications in international peer-reviewed academic and scientific journals per year. The K.U. Leuven is ranked the 4th university in FP6 and the 6th in the Leiden ranking on publication output.
The university has a long-standing tradition in top-level research in life sciences, engineering, exact sciences and humanities. By the creation of multi-disciplinary centres of excellence and by supporting strong links with UZ Leuven, one of the largest European university hospitals, it actively supports cross-border innovations. Via its technology transfer office K.U. Leuven Research & Development, the transfer of knowledge and technology between the university and the industry is promoted and supported. It provides an integrated approach to technology transfer covering contract & collaborative research, patenting & licensing and spin-off creation.
Holst Centre is an independent open-innovation R&D centre that develops generic technologies for Wireless Autonomous Transducer Solutions and for Systems-in-Foil. A key feature of Holst Centre is its partnership model with industry and academia around shared roadmaps and programmes. It is this kind of cross-fertilization that enables Holst Centre to tune its scientific strategy to industrial needs. Holst Centre was set up in 2005 by Imec, Flanders, Belgium and TNO, The Netherlands with support from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Government of Flanders. It is named after Gilles Holst, a Dutch pioneer in Research and Development and first director of Philips Research. Located on High Tech Campus Eindhoven, Holst Centre benefits from the state-of-the-art on-site facilities. Holst Centre has over 150 employees from around 25 nationalities and a commitment from over 20 industrial partners.
Imec performs world-leading research in nano-electronics. Imec leverages its scientific knowledge with the innovative power of its global partnerships in ICT, health care and energy. Imec delivers industry-relevant technology solutions. In a unique high-tech environment, its international top talent is committed to providing the building blocks for a better life in a sustainable society.Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in Belgium, The Netherlands, Taiwan, United States, China and Japan. Its staff of more than 1750 people includes over 650 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2008, Imec's revenue (P&L) was 270 million euro. More Imec news is available in the VMW October 2009 article Wireless sensor systems enable a better sleep.