In Berlin they have a unique way of playing chess. The player sits motionless and, as if by magic, his pieces move around the board. His brainwaves are being harnessed so he can play just by thinking about the next move.
The secret is in the headgear developed by researchers from Berlin’s Institute of Technology.
Researcher Michael Tangermann explained: “What we are seeing here is a brain-computer interface. It is a connection between the computer and the brain and it reads the intention of the player and then converts it into a move. The player just needs to imagine which pawn he wants to move and where, then the computer recognises that and makes the move. So, the person can play without using his hands.”
Several electrodes measure brain activity in key areas and detect which piece the player intends to move. As soon as the player puts on the special cap, a system calibrates the software to recognise his or her specific traits.
The brain-computer interface is not just for fun and games though. It could have serious medical applications, helping patients with severe motor neuron damage, for instance, to communicate with the outside world.
“The research behind this demonstration is to help severely motor-impaired patients, who are not in a position to make chess moves or maybe not even able to communicate,” Tangermann added. “But often patients are still cognitively just as capable as everyone else. So, we want to give them the possibility to show us what they are actually capable of.”
Tangermann pointed out the technology still needs to become more robust and practical in a few areas before it can be made available to large numbers of patients.