A team of UC Irvine scientists, armed with a recently awarded $4 million Army Research Office grant, is working to develop a new communication system that could help patients suffering from speech loss caused by paralysis to one day "speak" again using a brain-computer interface for thought communication.  
 
The award supports research into the neuroscientific and signal-processing foundations of synthetic telepathy. The brain-computer interface would use a non-invasive brain imaging technology like electroencephalography (EEG) to let people communicate their thoughts to each other. For example, a person would "think" a message to be transmitted and a computer-based thought recognition system would decode the EEG signals into the English language, allowing the thought to be transmitted either as speech or a text message. EEG signals are also used to determine the intended target of communication, or who will receive the message. The entire process would take place without a single spoken syllable.  
 
"Such a system would require extensive training by anyone who is using it to send messages," says Michael D'Zmura, lead researcher and chair of the UCI Department of Cognitive Sciences. "Communication would initially be based on a limited set of words or phrases that are recognized by the system and would involve more complex language and speech as the technology is further developed."  
 
If successful, the research could lead to the development of a communication system that would have considerable benefits in medical situations and in other settings, including battlefields, computer games, and classrooms.  
 
"Thanks to this generous grant we can work with experts in automatic speech recognition and in brain imaging at other universities to research a brain-computer interface with applications in military, medical and commercial settings," says D'Zmura.  
 
D'Zmura will conduct the research with UCI cognitive science professors Ramesh Srinivasan, Gregory Hickok and Kourosh Saberi. Joining the team are researchers Richard Stern and Vijayakumar Bhagavatula from Carnegie Mellon's department of electrical and computer engineering and David Poeppel from the University of Maryland's department of linguistics.  
 
The contract comes from the Department of Defense's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program, which supports research involving more than one science and engineering discipline and has the goal of developing applications for military and commercial purposes.  

-Laura Rico, University Communications
 
Link to campus press release: http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1808  
 
Also featured in the following:  
OC Register, August 13, 2008  
Associated Press, August 15, 2008  
LA Times, August 15, 2008  
Chronicle of Higher Education, August 16, 2008  
Spiegel (Germany), August 16, 2008  
Daily Pilot, August 17, 2008  
Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 2008  
Novoe Russkoe Slovo (New York-based Russian newspaper), August 18, 2008  
Engineer Online, August 19, 2008  
The Fort Leavenworth Lamp, September 11, 2008  
Time Magazine, September 14, 2008.  
Discovery Channel, October 13, 2008  
MSNBC, October 13, 2008

© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766