Engineering students from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) won first prize at the Imagine Cup 2014: United Arab Emirates finals for developing a brain-computer interface with accompanying mobile app that lets locked-in, paralyzed patients communicate with care providers and loved ones.
Many paralyzed patients have difficulty communicating their needs to caregivers, even though they retain full cognitive function but are unable to speak or gesture, a condition called locked-in syndrome. A brain-computer interface (BCI) allows them to communicate using brain activity to operate external devices without having to rely on the body’s motor system.
A non-invasive BCI with a mobile app was the project that won first prize for American University of Sharjah (AUS) students during the recent Imagine Cup 2014: United Arab Emirates finals competition.
For their project, the engineering students first recorded characteristic electroencephalogram (EEG) signals to provide a baseline. They then built a signal interface to detect brain waves in real-time. Through the interface, a patient can communicate if they are feeling pain, thirst, hunger or want help in changing body positions.
The non-invasive brain-computer interface allows these patients to convey choices just by thinking, instead of speaking. A computer recognizes a characteristic brain wave pattern and translates it to a preset choice.
To extend the usability of the BCI, the team also developed iConnect, a mobile app that links to the brain-computer interface and displays real-time readings on smartphones for doctors, nurses and caregivers to see, even if they are physically away from the bedside. The app can also transmit signals to wheelchairs to help patients move, according to the research team.
"Our app will enable the voice of silenced patients to be heard by their guardians and improve the quality of their life. It feels great to win the Imagine Cup competition, especially after a year of hard work, on such an important project,” said Aya Belal Ali, who along with teammates Rana Omer Mahmoud, Nada Ali Obaid, and Mohammed Al Nabtiti, will proceed to the Pan Arab Semifinals to be held in Qatar from May 31–June 4, 2014. The worldwide finals will be held in Seattle in July.
“Since we are graduating soon, this competition will lead us to our future career and will help us in choosing which field to work on. We will do our best in representing AUS in semifinals in Qatar and proceed to finals,” added Ali.
With increased adoption of wireless patient monitoring devices in UAE hospitals, the app offers another advanced tool in the care for paralyzed patients who have suffered from stroke, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, and neuromuscular disorders.
“This humanitarian project has shown that AUS engineering students are able to use technology to serve people in need and contribute to create a better society,” Dr. Aydin Yesildirek, Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering and the adviser for the project, said in a statement.
Some 1.65 million students from 190 countries have participated in Microsoft Imagine Cup since its inception twelve years ago. Now considered the foremost global student technology competition, it seeks to foster innovation among brilliant young minds in building applications across many sectors, including healthcare.
“For the past 11 years, Imagine Cup has been a place of inspiration and innovation for students around the world. The students participating in this competition demonstrate the very best in innovation and together are creating new apps, innovations and services that will change the way the world works, interacts and learns,” Michael Mansour, Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) Lead, Microsoft Gulf, said in an interview with Gulf Daily Mail. “We are incredibly proud of the semi-finalists who competed in Imagine Cup this year and stand in awe of the projects and technology they brought forth during the competition,” he added.