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Computers That Read Your Mind
May 31, 2012   
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Gdańsk company ARound is working on technology in which impulses from the brain will be translated into commands that control a computer. The project, called NeurON, will make it possible to operate a computer with the use of thoughts, emotions and facial expressions, the company says.

In 2011, the company won a string of awards that triggered a series of publications about its projects. The company is run by a group of young scientists who graduated from the Gdańsk University of Technology.
ARound CEO Łukasz Miądowicz is a graduate in applied physics, management and economics. He is also seeking a doctoral degree in theoretical physics and quantum computing, while teaching classes to students at his alma mater on an everyday basis. As part of his doctorate in quantum chemistry, Miądowicz is conducting experiments on combining atoms using light.

Miądowicz manages the company and its projects, while Mateusz Kuszner manages the company’s finances. Kuszner also lectures at the Gdańsk University of Technology and is pursuing his Ph.D. degree in physics and applied mathematics as well as studying issues related to European Union law and funds. His interests include algorithms and numerical methods in physics. Bartosz Reichel, Ph.D., is a theoretical and mathematical physicist. He is a programmer and an electronics engineer, with extensive experience in areas ranging from image analysis to the construction of meteorological stations.

Finally, Aleksander Lech, M.Sc., specializes in technical physics and computer science. He is a software engineer who has long-standing experience in major projects related to business and mobile applications. These include projects based on Java Enterprise Edition technology and involving network systems and distributed applications.

“Mathematically, we are strong, which is probably the most important thing in this case,” says Miądowicz. “What have we learned and what we are now teaching to our younger colleagues helps. Quantum mechanics and theoretical physics plus basic math help arrange and optimize algorithms and come up with new ideas.”

The company has completed work on two applications that it showed at the CeBIT fair in March. These are Arcity, a browser for mobile phones and tablets which enables the user to see what’s happening in town on the basis of images from a mobile phone camera, and an application for a keyboard controlled by brain activity. Head movements are used to move the cursor across the computer screen, while eye movements and facial expressions are used to click a mouse and perform other operations.

A completely original interface allows the user to control the computer without using their hands. As a result, disabled people, for example, can communicate with the world around them. In the near future, probably within a year, the designers also plan to develop the system so a computer can react to a user’s thoughts. Initially, this would be based on answering questions with “yes” or “no”—a method especially useful for completely paralyzed people.

The researchers at ARound have competition at home and abroad. The Intel corporation of the United States is working on similar technology and domestic rivals include the Gdańsk University of Technology, the alma mater of the four engineers, where the Multimedia Systems Department at the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Information Technology is carrying out a project to develop a system for controlling a computer using gestures .

All these projects differ in their approach to how the technology should be applied in practice, says Kuszner. “It is not easy to take an idea from the lab and transform it into a product ready for sale,” he says. In this case, however, the issue involves applications, not technologically complicated machines. The idea is to create applications that would make it possible to apply the technology in as many different devices as possible.

The Arcity project involves what is known as augmented reality—a live view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data—and showing content on the display of a mobile device. According to the engineers at the ARound company, this may be of interest to companies offering information, for example for tourists with phones equipped with an appropriate application.

The NeurOn project stands a chance of being successful on the market, according to the researchers, because it can be used by both disabled people and in all those situations where the mind has to be faster than the hand. And that means unlimited possibilities, the young inventors say.

They are working on further applications based on studying the electrical activity of the brain and involving new ways of controlling computers. Meanwhile, they are looking for an investor interested in their designs.

According to the researchers, the NeurOn project could yield the investor zl.20 in profit for every zloty put in the project. For now, the company has opened an office in the Pomeranian Science and Technology Park in Gdynia.

Adam Grzybowski
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