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Program Uses Brainwaves to Power Systems

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ASHLAND, Ore – Two Southern Oregon University students are adapting technology to help people with disabilities adapt to the world.

Computer Science students Marvin Hinkley and Rachel Albright are developing programs that read the brainwaves of people with disabilities and use that information to control everyday tasks. The two presented the system as part of their capstone project.

The system uses a headset that measures brainwaves and tells a computer to perform actions like steering a wheelchair or turning off a light. By training the human brain and the computer itself, a person concentrating on words like “push,” “pull,” “left,” or “right” can achieve the desired result, with a computer recognizing those specific patterns of brain impulses and what action they mean. Hinkley said the concept of using a headset to control a wheelchair is nothing new, but he wants to improve the technology to allow it to be used in everyday tasks around the home, like turning on the lights. He hopes to patent it and make it commercially available.

“I wanted to build a system that would utilize the headset to kind of normalize their social interactions, give them the abilities to interact with other people,” Hinkley said.

Before coming to SOU, Hinkley worked with several programs that helped people with disabilities, including the STEPS program in Medford. Hinkley said it allowed him to see the various struggles of people with different forms of disabilities.

“I started thinking of solutions to a lot of the difficulties their disabilities give them,” he said.

Hinkley said the program has the potential to expand even more. He is working on a text-to-speech program that can read a person’s brain impulses and form it into audible speech. Another goal is to make a facial recognition software to help people understand non-verbal communication.