Spin-off MindAffect given opportunity to help ALS patients

Peter Desain, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at Radboud University, has been researching brain-computer interfaces for twenty years. Desain: “With this invention, it is possible to determine what people are looking based on their brain activity. This could allow a subject to control a computer, for example.”

As potential users, he mentions patients who are unable to move or speak due to ALS or following a cerebral infarction, for example. “With this new technology, they will be able to communicate once more.”

The new investment of one million euros was made by a group of Dutch investors, which includes the Rotterdam maritime entrepreneur Bernard Muller who is also an ALS patient.

Ivo de la Rive Box, CEO of MindAffect, praises Muller’s contribution and effort for this group of patients. “His mission is to eradicate ALS.” The ambitions of his company will not be as far-reaching, he says. “Overcoming the disease is in the hands of medical science. What we focus on is improving the quality of life of these patients using smart applications.”

Test among 100 patients

Part of the investment will be used to run a test among one hundred ALS patients, who will be testing which methods are most suitable for which applications in various ways. An example: the patient is presented a blinking pattern, such as a blinking letter on a keyboard or a blinking LED somewhere in the room. Looking at this pattern can be determined from the brain activity, thus enabling the user to type a sentence on a keyboard or to open a door.
Converting brain activity into actions is not entirely new; the CEO mentions eye tracking as an example. “The drawback of this system is that it is slow to become operational and does not work in an overly-lit environment. The unique aspect of our finding is the relative ease and speed of the system. Other approaches require a surgical intervention to place the switch in the head, while our system does not.”

Feasible and affordable?

De la Rive Box cannot make any promises about whether or when his invention will hit the market, as there are still uncertainties regarding product development and certifications. Affordability is also a point of focus for MindAffect. “We can’t possibly know what challenges we will face, but we will do our utmost best to come up with an application that is affordable, even bypassing health insurance companies if that route would prove too long.” MindAffect, which is situated at the Noviotech Campus Nijmegen, also considers applications in the world of virtual reality and computer games. “Controlling virtual persona using brain activity offers many opportunities for games; that is another field that is wide open.”

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