George Shebek wants to control computers with his mind

George Shebek with his EEG headset

George Shebek is researching brain-computer         
interfaces

What would you do if you could control a machine just by thinking at it?

George Shebek has a few ideas.

The mechanical engineering sophomore is researching brain-computer interfaces. The idea behind it is this: a person wearing an EEG (a device that records brain activity) thinks a command, the command is read by a computer and the computer produces a response.

For someone with limited mobility, this could be the technology that breaks down barriers in their day to day lives. If a person is paraplegic, for example, he could move his wheelchair around with unspoken commands. If a person has a prosthetic arm, she could control her fingers with her brain.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds. We use our brains for almost everything we do, and there are little electrical impulses going off literally all the time. An EEG can record the pattern of these impulses, but is there a unique electrical pattern for every thought that we have?

The answer is yes, although we are a long way off from being able to decipher them. Shebek’s research relies on making those thoughts “stronger” through training, to the point where a few specific commands can be identified and read.

Right now, Shebek is working with a headset and software produced by the company Emotiv, which, in addition to the EEG recordings also picks up on minute facial expressions, increasing the overall accuracy of the system.

Shebek is experimenting with how well the software can quickly identify five separate commands. If he can do this, it will prove that this kind of brain-computer interface can be done and open the door to developing applications for it.

Shebek's work is advised by Amit Shukla, professor in the mechanical and manufacturing engineering department. His project is one of several under the Miami University Center for Assistive Technology (MUCAT). 

"If you are going to engineer something, it might as well be for the betterment of society," he said.

By Paige Smith