[From August Issue 2010]
Currently, Japanese society is working on overcoming many barriers. And many devices to assist the physically challenged are being developed. The AuxDeco (Forehead Sensory Recognition System) developed by EyePlusPlus Inc. is a device to assist the blind. Worn on the forehead, the user can feel through their skin the shape of an object in front of them. For example, if an object is round, this device uses electronic sensors to simulate a round shape on the person’s forehead. If there is a street crossing, the device simulates a horizontal line. This way, through their skin, a user can better distinguish shapes and forms.
AuxDeco includes a small camera. This camera captures images of objects in front of the user. Then the AuxDeco computer reads and converts the photo’s outline into data. The data is sent through the headband to the forehead. There, 512 installed electrodes recreate the object’s shape via electronic pulses directly onto the user’s forehead.
KANNO Yonezo, the President of EyePlusPlus Inc. says that “We had to make many improvements on the first AuxDecos’ because they were too heavy, and the electronic pulses were too strong and painful. We also developed a program whereby users could purchase the AuxDeco after training with it for 20 to 30 hours. As a result, recent feedback indicates that the AuxDeco is both convenient and safe.” There are also some social groups offering grants to blind individuals who want to purchase the device.
Kanno adds that, “It is a good thing for engineers to pursue technological advances. But how new technology is used to help people is the more important issue.” Kanno is currently on a humanitarian support mission introducing the AuxDeco to India and Southeastern Asia.
Another tool, called the Neurocommunicator, was created by HASEGAWA P. Ryohei, Ph.D, the leader of the Neurotechnology Research Group of the Human Technology Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). This device interprets a person’s brain waves to determine their intentions which can then be transmitted audibly. Using the Neurocommunicator individual patients with severe motor impairment can convey up to 512 different kinds of messages.
To start, the user puts on the device then looks at one of 8 icons shown on the computer screen in front of them, which include actions such as “eat” and “move.” The computer program analyzes the brain waves and interprets which icon the user is focusing on. The next screen displays another set of 8 icons that are relevant to the initial choice. So if the first icon chosen was “move,” then the next set of icons would include locations such as “bathroom” or “hospital.” After the user chooses their location, another set of icons appears from which the user could choose the action they want to do once they get there. So, if “bathroom” was chosen, then the next 8 icons would include “brush teeth,” and “wash face.” After the user has completed all his choices, in an artificial voice the machine would then say: “I want to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.”
Three very complicated technologies were required in creating this device. The first was a high-performance, small yet affordable electroencephalograph (EEG); the second was the technology to quickly and correctly decipher the brain wave data, and the third was the program to efficiently create the message. So, after various technological improvements, both an EEG half the size of a cell phone, and a program with the speed to decipher the user’s choices in 3-to-4 seconds, were successfully developed.
“Since we experiment to deepen the understanding of the human brain, sometimes people speak badly of us and we are referred to as the ‘mad scientists’,” admits Hasegawa. “But with devices like this, we believe neuroscience can provide society with beneficial accomplishments.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo