Medical technologists are in hot pursuit of methods for unobtrusively monitoring the body, and video-game-system makers are on the same trail: Nintendo’s Wiimote and Microsoft’s Kinect follow body movements, and products being developed by NeuroSky and Emotiv use physiological signals to control the game.
The kind of sensing NeuroSky and Emotiv are peddling is poised to become even less obtrusive with the introduction of a new technology that detects the voltage change in the body’s muscles and nerves without electrical contact. In October, Plessey Semiconductors of Roborough, England, began shipping samples of its Electric Potential Integrated Circuit (EPIC), which measures minute changes in electric fields. In videos demonstrating the technology, two sensors placed on a person’s chest delivered electrocardiogram (ECG) readings. No big deal, you say? The sensors were placed on top of the subject’s sweater, and in future iterations, the sensors could be integrated into clothes or hospital gurneys so that vital signs could be monitored continuously—without cords, awkward leads, hair-pulling sticky tape, or even the need to remove the patient’s clothes.
Though the technology is being introduced to pick up heart signals, EPIC’s developers say it is also good at sensing the electrical activity of skeletal muscles, including those that control the eyes. Derek Rye, Plessey’s marketing director, says that researchers are working to include this ability in computer interfaces for assisting the disabled; it would give quadriplegics the ability to control a cursor on a computer screen or operate a motorized wheelchair with a series of eye movements. It could also benefit amputees, who often have residual electrical activity in the muscle at the amputation site. Researchers say that EPIC could serve as a noninvasive interface between the nerves and muscles and a prosthesis, allowing it to respond just as a natural limb would.
Go to SPECTRUM IEEE to keep reading.