UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science


Dr Tom Carlson presents as Café Scientifique

27 November 2014

Dr Tom Carlson, Aspire Lecturer in the Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology (Create) at IOMS, UCL Division of Surgery, gave a talk at a Café Scientifique on 20th November as part of UCL and Division’s outreach activities.

The talk, entitled “Brain-machine interfaces: science beyond fiction?” was hosted by King Edward’s School Witley, Surrey, and attracted an audience of 5th and 6th form students and staff. The Café Scientifique proved to be a lively and interactive event, beginning with an exploration of the depiction of brain-computer interfaces in films and popular culture, before discussing the more serious topic of how brain signals can be measured in “real life”. This provided the basis that led to the development of real brain-computer interfaces, enabling people to interact with the world using their thoughts alone. For some people with severe motor disabilities, such interfaces may offer an alternative way to interact with the world, despite not being able to use their own muscles. However, state-of-the-art brain-computer interfaces are only able to support relatively low information transfer rates.

Dr Carlson then used the metaphor of the interaction between a horse and a rider to explain the concept of shared control and how this can be applied to compensate for these low information transfer rates. The combination of these technologies was fundamental to the development of a brain-controlled wheelchair and more generally to enable reliable control of assistive technologies in real situations.

The young audience was captivated by the topic and quickly gained confidence to ask questions and contribute their own thoughts to the discussion. Feedback after the event was extremely positive and as a result, the Aspire Create team are considering organising an outreach workshop or work experience programme to further engage youngsters in this exciting area of research.