(Left) Erin Treacy Solovey wearing the Brainput device (Right) Artistic concept (via MIT & Erin Solovey)
When it comes to multitasking we as humans try the best we can. While we all have a modicum of ability, some are better than others. It suffices to say, we could all use a boost to become more efficient in our multitude of multitasking efforts, which is why a team of researchers has developed an unconventional solution to the problem. Led by Erin Solovey from MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab, the team has designed a system called ‘Brainput’ that can off-load some of our brains multitasking skills to a computer which is way more efficient at doing multiple things than we could ever hope to be. They system uses a portable low-cost version of a functional magnetic resonance imager called ‘fNIRS’ (functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy) to measure the activity going on in the brain. The measurements are monitored and processed (using two probes) in real-time using Boxy software (from ISS). The information is then analyzed by a software engine (created using both Matlab and Weka tools) to look for specific patterns associated when the individual is multitasking. When the system has learned these patterns the software kicks in and is able to help the user with the task at hand.
A maze was created to test Brainputs effectiveness where a subject had to navigate through using two robots simultaneously. The operator using the fNIRS system was constantly switching back and forth between them and once the software learned the patterns it was able to engage sensors in the robots to help the user with their guidance. While the robots were autonomous, the test subject’s performance did indeed improve. While Brainput is still in its early development stages, it could be implemented into many applications in the future like helping you drive while you’re momentarily distracted or used during surgery with robotic assistance. What if the system could be used wirelessly? If you have an automated laundry machine, you could be slaving at work and washing your laundry at home at the same time! The possibilities are endless.