BBC’s digital division is experimenting with a new technology where users can select a TV programme to view, with just their brainwaves. For this project, the firm’s digital division took a simple low cost brainwave reading mindset, and created a ‘Mind Control’ prototype. It allows users to open an experimental version of BBC iPlayer and select a TV programme to view by using their brainwaves.
In a blog post, Cyrus Saihan, Head, Business Development, BBC Digital Division, noted, “It’s an internal prototype designed to give our programme makers, technologists and other users an idea of how this technology might be used in the future. Our first trial run saw 10 BBC staff members try out the app, and all were able to launch BBC iPlayer and start viewing a programme simply by using their minds. It was much easier for some than it was for others, but they all managed to get it to work.”
Saihan says that as soon as the firm learnt that new technologies were available in the market that allowed one to control electronic devices by measuring the brain’s electrical activity, it wanted to experiment with the technology to see what types of audience experiences this might result in. The goal was to improve accessibility and the potential of a new user interface. By the ability to control the TV using the brain, BBC is looking to help users with a broad range of disabilities who cannot easily use traditional TV remote controls or other conventional interfaces.
“An important potential benefit that brainwave technology might offer is the ability to improve the accessibility of media content to people with disabilities. For example, people affected by motor-neurone disease or suffering locked-in-syndrome may increasingly be able to use brain-computer interfaces to get a better experience of digital and media services than they currently do, potentially opening up the online world of information and experiences that the rest of us now take for granted,” says Saihan in the blog post.
The technology behind the brain remote
The electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave reading headset has a small sensor that rests on a user’s forehead and another on a clip that attaches to the ear. These sensors measure electrical activity in the brain. In the case of this experimental app, a user can select either ‘concentration’ or ‘meditation’ as the brain control mechanism. If the user selects ‘concentration’, the headset and app monitors their level of concentration and a ‘volume bar’ of brainwaves is displayed on the screen, to visually illustrate their level of concentration.
Once a certain threshold of concentration has been reached, a message is sent to the tablet to perform an action – in this case, to initially launch BBC iPlayer. Once a user launches BBC iPlayer, they are presented with five of the most popular programmes on at that point in time. Each of these programmes is then highlighted, one at a time, changing programmes every 10 seconds. When the programme a user wants to watch is highlighted, they have ten seconds to concentrate and open that programme so that it starts playing.
The possibilities for using this type of technology are immense, and are limited to one’s imagination. “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. 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 personalized set of news headlines,” says Saihan, giving a glimpse of the future where the TV remote may never be needed.