Thought-Wired crowdfunding to launch brain-controlled technology
A startup that's developing thought-controlled communication technology is fundraising to launch its first product.
Thought-Wired is an Auckland-based company that started working on its software, called nous, five years ago to help people with disabilities who cannot talk or move to communicate using their minds.
A headset reads brainwaves, which can then be interpreted by computer software, with the idea being that nous can control anything that uses a touch screen or keyboard.
Nous has been designed and tested, but needed additional funding to get it to its first users.
The first version of the technology allows for yes and no responses, custom multiple choice answers and interaction with programmes that can be controlled with a few keys from a keyboard.
Co-founder Dmitry Selitskiy was inspired to develop nous by his 13-year-old cousin, who has cerebral palsy and cannot talk.
Selitskiy saw a demonstration of some technology six years ago that picked up brain signals and sent them to a computer.
"I thought, wouldn't it be cool to allow someone like [his cousin] to communicate with others using what he has functioning perfectly, which is his mind."
Thought-Wired launched its PledgeMe campaign last week with a minimum goal of $200,000 and it is more than half-way there, with 26 days still to go.
Up until now, the company has been mostly self-funded, although it has received some smaller amounts of capital, including initial seed funding through a University of Auckland entrepreneurship programme and Callaghan Innovation grants.
Selitskiy said the possibilities of the software depend on how technology in general develops, but he hoped nous could help users with daily tasks like like controlling a music playlist or a text-to-voice communication system.
In five years' time, Selitskiy wanted Thought-Wired to be a world leader in natural interface technology and have a user base of more than 10,000 people.
"An able-bodied person does thousands of activities on a daily basis, but a lot of that is inaccessible for someone with profound disabilities. The goal is to remove that line and make sure everything is accessible to everyone," Selitskiy said.
University of Otago associate professor Zhiyi Huang has been researching brain computer interface technology since 2012 and collaborates with a Chinese company that develops technology for a mind-controlled drone.
Huang said the technology was "promising" and there was plenty of room for development.
One of the challenges was the differing levels of accuracy: some people might find the technology harder to use than others, in which case they would required more training.
Differences between how a human brain worked in the morning (more alert) compared with the afternoon (more drowsy) also impacted on the accuracy of the technology, Huang said.