Rewriting Life

Brain-Controlled Typing May Be the Killer Advance That AR Needs

Why type when you can just think?

Clicking, typing, and swiping are the norm in 2017. But to streamline the way we use virtual and augmented reality, a startup called Neurable wants to replace all of that with simply thinking.

“Every major computational technology has needed an evolution in interaction,” Ramses Alcaide, cofounder and CEO of the firm, explained at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday. “When it came to the computer, we had the graphical user interface and the mouse. With smartphones, we went to capacitive touch screens. And now that we’re entering augmented reality, we need to start thinking about more natural ways of interacting—your hand, your eye, and even your brain.”

That, says Alcaide, could make the vision of augmented-reality headsets genuinely useful, allowing wearers to influence what they see without fumbling for a keypad or controller. That’s why Neurable has been working on developing brain-control systems for VR for over a year now. It uses a headset loaded with dry electrodes that sit on the scalp and track brain activity. The firm’s software analyzes the brain’s activity to work out what its wearer wants to do. A couple of months ago, the company showed off a snazzy VR game that uses the technology to let you move objects with your mind.

But that kind of thing is not the company’s true goal. “The killer interaction is not something exciting; it’s something boring,” Alcaide said at the conference. “It’s something as simple as typing, sweeping, pinch-and-zoom, and clicking.”

To that point, he showed off of an alpha version of Neurable’s first typing tool. The current speed record for typing via brain-computer interface is eight words per minute, but that uses an invasive implant to read signals from a person’s brain. “We’re working to beat that record, even though we’re using a noninvasive technology,” explains Alcaide. “We’re getting about one letter per second, which is still fairly slow, because it’s an early build. We think that in the next year we can further push that forward.”

He says that by introducing AI into the system, Neurable should be able to reduce the delay between letters and also predict what a user is trying to type. And that might make our interactions with technology smoother than ever.