Electronic devices are getting smaller, thinner and more flexible — taking them into areas other electronics can’t go. One place is the mind. Electrical engineer Todd Coleman at the University of California at San Diego, for example, is using super-thin flexible electronic “tattoos” to read brain wave activity in a non-invasive way and use that data to control machines.
Coleman’s devices, which about the width of a human hair, stick to a person’s forehead and detect electrical signals from the brain. In previous studies, his team found that study participants could remotely fly airplanes around a room using their mind. These people were not wearing the thin tattoo-like stickers but wearing electrode caps that pick up brain wave activity. But if such control can come from the cap, it could be possible to shrink it down to the stick-on tattoo level, which Coleman says his team is working on.
The small, flexible devices could also be put on the throat and behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly and perhaps improve speech recognition in smartphones.