Viewers could soon be swapping their remote control for mind control after the BBC developed a prototype device that can be operated with the power of their brainwaves.
The project, carried out by the BBC’s digital division in collaboration with technology company This Place, used a low-cost brainwave-reading headset to create the Mind Control TV prototype, which works with an experimental version of the BBC’s iPlayer on-demand platform.
The 10 BBC staff members were able to operate the headset using only the brain’s electrical activity. It allowed them to navigate through the iPlayer and select what they wanted to watch by concentrating or relaxing their minds – either of which triggers a noticeable change in brain activity.
Cyrus Saihan, head of business development at BBC Digital, said the device was at an experimental stage. “You can imagine a world where instead of having to get up from your sofa or reach for your remote, you just think 'put BBC One on' when you want to watch TV,” he said.
The electroencephalography (EEG) headset uses two sensors, one that sits on the forehead and another on the ear, to measure the brain’s electrical signals. The interface allows users to choose either 'concentration' or 'meditation' as the main brain control tool.
As soon as a level of concentration has been reached, a message is sent to complete a different task – open BBC iPlayer for example. The viewer then has 10 seconds to concentrate on a specific programme out of the five current most popular BBC shows for it to start playing.
“Hopefully it gives an idea of how audiences of the future might be able to control devices such as TVs with just using their brainwaves,” Saihan said.
“Imagine sitting in your car and thinking 'I want to listen to Radio 4' and hearing the radio station come on during your commute to work. Perhaps you might be able to just think 'give me the latest news' and in response get served up a personalised set of news headlines.”
The technology could also benefit people with a broad range of disabilities who cannot use traditional TV remote controls easily, he said. The BBC already offers advanced viewing options, such as voice control with BBC iPlayer on Xbox One.
Brain controlled devices are becoming more widespread as we have seen technology firm Tekever demonstrate in February how a drone could be remotely controlled using brainpower alone.
However, Saihan stressed that it is very early days and while brainwave reading devices are constantly improving, their capabilities are still quite basic. “The outputs on our very experimental app were limited to simple binary on/off instructions, for example,” he said.