A wearable app co-developed by Philips and Accenture can process brain commands from an EEG headband to control devices and communicate with others.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by the destruction of motor neurons. Over time, patients lose their ability to communicate and control their muscles. Eventually, they could be completely paralyzed and would need constant help from others who can provide their basic needs.
A new system that melds EEG, brain-computer interface technology and wearable devices could help ALS patients regain considerable control and independence.
The first component of the system is the Emotiv Insight − a sleek, wireless headset that tracks EEG signals in the brain. The Emotiv Insight Brainware sensors record brain waves in real-time to detect the wearer’s feelings, thoughts and expressions.
Then, the second component − a custom software co-developed by Philips and Accenture processes the brain waves via a tablet app and a wearable display interface. The patient uses the wearable display for feedback to navigate through menus and issue commands like “left” or “down.” The system lets the patient control Philips Smart devices through brain commands. For instance, the user can turn on the lights or the TV in the room. The system also accepts tactile and eye movement input from patients who still retain muscle control.
Perhaps more importantly, the system allows the patient to seek medical help immediately when needed. In particular, patients can activate the Philips Lifeline Emergency Alert system. Patients can send pre-recorded messages via e-mail, text or voice mail instantaneously to their caregivers. All this can be done by “clicking” the proper button on the visual interface using only the power of the mind.
The new application was launched recently by Accenture Technology Labs and Philips Digital Accelerator Lab, who asked patients suffering from ALS the most difficult challenges they face every day. The patients said their most important goals are to regain their ability to communicate with their families and care providers, and to have control over their environment. The two companies designed the app to address those challenges.
“This proof of concept shows the potential of wearable technology in a powerful new way — helping people with serious diseases and mobility issues take back some control of their lives through digital innovation,” Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “It is another demonstration of how Accenture and Philips, collaborating with other technology innovators, seek to improve the lives of people with healthcare challenges.”
The system is not ready for commercial launch yet, but Daugherty told Reuters that the app can eventually help 40 million patients suffering from all types of neurodegenerative conditions, including the 400,000 people who have ALS.
In 2013, Philips and Accenture also collaborated on a proof-of-concept demonstration for delivering vital patient data via Google Glass. In the demo, a doctor wearing Google Glass was shown to simultaneously monitor a patient’s vital signs via the gadget’s display while remaining focused on the patient and the procedure. Doctors and surgeons have been using Google Glass in their real-life practice as well.
The non-invasive nature of EEG-based brain-computer interfaces has spurred many companies to develop new wearable and portable devices targeted at the consumer market using relatively old medical imaging and diagnostic technology (EEG has been in clinical use for more than 50 years). In this early part of the era of the so-called quantified self movement, these devices have been one of the most developed.
Aside from the potential benefit for ALS patients as described above, Emotive’s EPOC and Insight devices can also track relaxation and stress levels. Similar products in the market are InteraXon’s Muse and Melon’s EEG headbands, both designed to help users relax and focus on activities. It remains to be seen if these companies would suffer the fate of Zeo, a failed startup that marketed a device that also collected EEG data for tracking sleep.
Also a similar system is iConnect, an award-winning mobile app developed by Emirati students designed to connect to a brain-computer interface and allow paralyzed patients with locked-in syndrome to communicate.