There are more than 5000 people in New Zealand and six million around the world who cannot move or speak because of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and motor neuron disease. But their minds are sound and healthy.
Thought-Wired, established in 2012, has developed software that enables those people to communicate. The thought-controlled communication software called nous will be launched commercially during the second half of 2017 – following five years of research and development.
The software uses brain-sensing (also known as brain-computer interface) technology which enables the person to say "yes" or "no" to questions just by thinking about it – the response appears on the screen. The person could even change the television channel, work the video player or turn the lights on and off. Or operate a computer using an alphabet matrix and predictive test.
Plenty of interactions with nous
The ground-breaking nous product comes with a lightweight, wireless headset, the communication software including updates, initial training for the user, and ongoing customer support.
Thought-Wired co-founder Dmitry Selitskiy says the company will initially concentrate on assisting teenagers through to middle-aged adults. "The brain works differently at different ages, and we need to do more work for younger children and older adults.
"But the software and technology will change quite rapidly and the possibilities are endless, from home automation to motorised wheelchairs. Anything that can be controlled with a computer could interact with nous.
"It will be very powerful for people who cannot talk or move and are dependent on carers. The requirement is that the person using the technology has regular cognitive function," he says.
The NeuroSky MindWave Mobile headset, designed in the United States, captures the electrical activity of the brain and translates them into signals using the electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring method. Thought-Wired’s software teaches people to control their thought patterns so they can select words and images on their computer screens.
"That’s what we have been working on – making the brain activity useful for performing tasks. We want nous to become the person’s voice," says Dmitry, Thought-Wired’s chief executive. He is joined in the business by Dr James Pau, the Tech and Product Lead; psychologist Sarvnaz Taherian; and software developer Stefan Rochfort.
That’s what we have been working on – making the brain activity useful for performing tasks. We want nous to become the person’s voice.”
Making the world accessible
Thought-Wired will first target the New Zealand market for its new product and it has set a goal of signing up 500 users within the first year of launching nous.
"We have formed relationships with organisations such as Cerebral Palsy Society and The TalkLink Trust who work with individuals and special education schools," Dmitry says.
"We will start off in New Zealand, but we quickly want to move into key international markets of Australia and Canada which have well established support systems for people with disability.
"At Thought-Wired we aim to make the world accessible to these people - starting with communication," he says.