Managing the Power of Thought: ITMO University Accelerator Resident

    The TuSion project , a resident of the Future Technologies accelerator at ITMO University, is developing a software algorithm that allows users to better recognize their own desires and emotions, track consumer behavior, or configure smart home gadgets through the neural interface and its associated application. How this works is described below.

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    How the neural interface works

    In the most general sense, the neurointerface is a system that allows you to read brain activity. In the future, neural interfaces are promised a wide distribution - both futurologists and developers already anticipate a wide distribution of devices that respond not to our words or actions, but to desires and mental commands.

    Now neural interfaces are developed primarily for virtual reality projects - the term full dive VR (full virtual immersion) is sometimes used to refer to them . For example, the MindMaze project, working on the neural interface plus software scheme, announces the creation of a virtual reality neuro platform .

    Initially, the project was developed in the medical industry as an aid in the rehabilitation of patients with brain injuries. However, now the capabilities of MindMaze are actively used in the field of VR - the neural interface analyzes brain signals and can predict human emotions instantly before they manifest: such a clear recognition and display of human emotions can add additional expressiveness and realism to avatars in games and applications.

    As for the development of the TuSion project, it is being prepared for use for a variety of purposes - the creators of the company believe that the development potential can be revealed both in the field of virtual reality and, for example, in the field of “smart home”. Vladimir Kublashvili, one of the founders of the project, notes: “If the brain controls virtual reality without any external manipulators, it can be even more natural for a person [compared to joysticks and other additional gadgets]”.

    The neural interface that can be used for this purpose should be a wearable device that records not only the electrical activity of the brain, but also the physical signs of emotions, eye movement - including in order to tell the owner something interesting about himself. For example, to predict which objects are most likely to please the user, based on his previous — sometimes invisible and even unconscious — reactions.

    Why does the neural interface need an application

    In order to “attach” the neural interface to the brain, you need a special application for reading and transmitting signals. TuSion developed this - it reads the electrical activity of the brain and records the level of concentration or, conversely, relaxation in accordance with the readings of the electroencephalogram.

    This process is visualized in the application. At the hackathon on intellectual systems and virtual reality neurotechnologies, which took place in St. Petersburg last year, the project team, using the neural interfaces Muse and NeuroSky, presented an application that allowed you to manipulate art objects on the screen of a mobile device due to the “strain of thought”. The objects on the screen became brighter or paler depending on the user's concentration level.

    Now the project team is engaged in obtaining additional statistics on user interaction with the neural interface and is conducting early tests on volunteers at the Institute of Human Brain named after N.P. Ankylosing spondylitis. Such studies, according to Vladimir, help to "build bridges between the human brain and the neuro-interface" - including for the creation of medical developments.

    By the way, studies related to the use of neural interfaces in medicine have been carried out for quite some time - and not always in this case the neural interface is understood to be a light wearable gadget: a lot depends on what technology is used to read brain performance indicators. For example, wearable gadgets used in the TuSion project typically collect electroencephalogram data. And the neural interfaces intended for the rehabilitation of patients after severe injuries can look much more cumbersome and use the technology of magnetic encephalography (or functional magnetic resonance imaging).

    In Russia, there are few projects working in the field of neurotechnology now, including because this direction is relatively new. “There are too many unknowns in this market so far: there are questions of medical restrictions on the use of neurotechnologies, startups do not understand where their technology will go, what market they will go to, with whom to work, how it will look. We will try to correct this situation, ”comments Ekaterina Egoshina, director of the Center for Project Management and Promotion of ITMO University.

    For this purpose, ITMO University has launched a new undergraduate program in Neurotechnology and Programming at the Department of Computer Educational Technologies (the department also has a master's program related to the subject- “Modeling of cognitive processes in neuroinformation systems”).

    This direction of training aims to expand the opportunities and interests of future graduates in comparison with “ordinary” programmers: “It is necessary that students see and understand that applying their skills is not only in“ pure ”programming, that there are projects that arise at the junction of programming and, for example, physiology, ”says Ekaterina Egoshina.

    PS Read on: ITMO University begins training IT-specialists in the field of neurotechnology .

    PS Already this Wednesday (May 24, 2017) in the American Rapid City, the final of the ACM ICPC 2017 world championship in sports programming will be held (ITMO University is one of the leaders of the championship). Watch the live broadcast of the championship and support our team!

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