In the not-too-distant future, we could be communicating with our computers - and each other - using only our thoughts.
Scientists are already working on technology that connects the brain to electronic gadgets and two new devices unveiled this week could help usher in a future without keyboards: a wireless brainwave headset and a brain sensor that dissolves in the body after completing its job.
At the University of California San Diego, bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs and his team came up with an easy way to monitor the brain. They have built the first portable, 64-channel wearable brain activity monitoring system that's comparable to state-of-the-art equipment found in research laboratories.
Cauwenberghs says the idea is to allow scientists and doctors to check brain function or activity without implanting electrodes.
"There has been much progress in brain stimulation, but it's very invasive," he said. With our device, you just place it on your head."
Cauwenberghs says the team has come up with two devices: a high-resolution 64-channel EEG monitor for research and clinical settings that attaches to the patient's skin, and a 20-channel device that is designed for quick readings -- to check for brain damage from a concussion or stroke, for example, when time is important.
This lower-resolution device is easier to put on but can still read brainwaves just by attacking to the hair.
The device was described in a study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.
The group behind the wireless EEG monitor says their neuroimaging systems could someday work with mobile sensors and smartphones to track brain states throughout the day, perhaps even boost the brain's capabilities.
"This is going to take neuroimaging to the next level by deploying on a much larger scale," said Mike Yu Chi, a UCSD Jacobs School alumnus and chief technology officer of the startup firm Cognionics who led the team that developed the headset used in the study. "You will be able to work in subjects' homes. You can put this on someone driving."