community, myself included, dream
about this possibility every day.”
Such seamless interactions might
not be achieved for many years to come,
but Schalk says it is realistic to see im-
pressive demonstrations of functional
restoration, such as full control of robot-
ic arms with actuation of individual fin-
gers, in the near term. Despite the chal-
lenges, the potential benefits to ongoing
work in this area remain clear. “Using
conventional methods, our brain’s nor-
mal input and output pathways limit the
amount of information that can be com-
municated to about 50 bits per second,
such as for spoken speech,” says Schalk.
“Using BCI technology, it may be possi-
ble to substantially increase this rate of
communication, and thus allow for an
ideal symbiosis of the human brain and
Taylor also offers a similar per-
spective on the future of BCI technol-
ogy, suggesting that more adaptive
systems will be emerging in the near
term. “When you have a less-than-
perfect means of controlling your
computer, it is imperative that your
computer interface make the most
of the limited information coming in
from the user,” she says. In this sense,
necessity may lead to significant in-
terface improvements designed to be
more intelligent and dynamic in re-
sponding to human input.
The prospect of more intuitive
input mechanisms has been a key
the Bci community,
says Gerwin schalk,
is the lack of
sensor that can
at high fidelity.
motivation for interface designers,
who have long expressed excitement
about the potential for BCI research to
change the way humans interact with
computers. Still, most BCI scientists
are careful to offer only guarded opti-
mism, cautioning that the field is still
relatively young in its methods and
results, making it unlikely the average
person will be using BCIs to interact
with computers in the near term. At
this point, noninvasive ways of record-
ing brain activity provide only low-
fidelity data. But for somebody who is
paralyzed, even gaining a slow method
of interacting with a computer can
make a significant improvement in
quality of life.
Berger, T. W., Chapi, J.K., Gerhardt, G.A.,
McFarland, D.J., Principe, J.C.,
Soussou, W.V., Taylor, D.M., and Tresco, P.A.
An International Assessment
of Research and Development Trends.
Springer, new York, n Y, 2008.
Brain-computer symbiosis, Journal of
Neural Engineering 5, 1, March 2008.
Schalk, G. and Mellinger, J.
A Practical Guide to Brain Computer
Interfacing with BCI2000.
Springer-Verlag, London, U.K., 2010.
Taylor, D.M., Helms Tillery, S.I.,
and Schwartz, A.B.
Direct cortical control of 3D
neuroprosthetic devices, Science 296,
5574, June 2002.
Wolpaw, J.R., Birbaumer, N., McFarland, D.J.,
Pfurtscheller, G., and Vaughan T.M.
Brain-computer interfaces for
communication and control, Clinical
Neurophysiology 113, 6, June 2002.
based in los angeles, Kirk L. Kroeker is a freelance
editor and writer specializing in science and technology.
© 2011 acM 0001-0782/11/10 $10.00
Skin-like Electronic Patch Unveiled
In an emerging field called
epidermal electronics, a
multidisciplinary team of
University of Illinois researchers
has crafted a skin-like,
wearable electronic patch that
could transform such diverse
fields as medical monitoring,
wound treatment, covert
communication, and human-computer interfaces.
The researchers demonstrated
a system that integrates tiny
sensors, transistors, radio-
frequency inductors, capacitors,
and other electronic devices into
an ultra-thin, flexible artificial
substrate with physical and
chemical properties that make
the patch barely distinguishable
from the user’s own skin. The
work was first reported in the Aug.
12 issue of Science.