by Michael Keller
Futurist fashionistas take note: A new type of accessory that ornaments your ears in golden, fractal patterns isn’t meant to be jewelry; it’s built to read your thoughts. It could one day replace the mouse, keyboard and touchscreen with brain waves as the way to interact with computers.
In a study released today in the journal PNAS, materials scientists and engineers report they’ve developed soft electrodes that can be stuck on and behind the ear to detect electrical activity in the brain. The epidermal electronics are designed to be worn for at least two weeks at a stretch and have shown effectiveness as a brain-computer interface. Test subjects sporting the system were able to spell out words on a computer screen using only their thoughts.
The team of U.S. and South Korean scientists built what amounts to a miniaturized electroencephalogram (EEG), which is typically used to read brain activity for signs of epilepsy or other brain disorders. Researchers shrunk the rigid metal EEG electrodes that are normally stuck to the scalp by crafting them out of thin gold wire sealed in skin-compatible polymers. These sensors were then affixed to the outer part of the ear, called the auricle, and to the skull bone just behind the ear that is called the mastoid process.