Neuroprosthetics: Neuro Experience


Summary

The “Neuro Experience” demonstrates the technology of neuroprosthetics.  It is a game-like simulation about rehabilitation that will ask guests to re-learn a familiar task.

EEG headsets that detect brainwaves will mimic the interface of a neuroprosthetic limb.  Guests will have to try and move a virtual leg by actively controlling their own thoughts.  This experience challenges guests to re-evaluate the difficulty of actions that they take for granted and to respect the difficulties of those who must live with replaced body parts.

Neuroprosthetics
The goal of prosthetic technology has always been to create artificial limbs that can act as effective substitutes for the lost ones, and one of the biggest limitations has always been the fact that prostheses, even if motorized, need to be able to be controlled by the intentions of the user.  However, research over the past few years has made this possible.  By using implanted chips that connect directly to nerves or even to the brain, scientists have begun to discover ways to interpret the electrical signals of the nervous system to control computer cursors and even robotic arms.  While not yet commercially available for amputees,  the science fiction of fully articulated cybernetic hands and jumping legs is heading towards reality.

Experience
In the museum, guests will be presented with a touchscreen and EEG headset.  The touchscreen will allow guests to begin a first-person experience set in the hypothetical future about losing one’s legs in an unfortunate accident.  In this future, the guest will be able to receive a pair of neurally-controlled prosthetic legs but still must undergo rehabilitation to learn how to use them.  The EEG headset will simulate the normally implanted interface with the legs by gathering the guest’s brainwave activity.  Within the context of an easily accessible museum experience, the brainwave data will be used in a simple game mechanic to move the virtual prosthetic legs.  Controlling one’s brainwave activity is inherently less familiar and intuitive than using a mouse or a keyboard, and guests will initially find it awkward and even frustrating; however, as they gradually adapt and succeed, and even if they don’t, the experience will leave them with humble respect for the difficulty that real amputees must go through to rehabilitate – to re-learn things that are often taken for granted but necessary to be self-sufficient in society.