The idea of controlling machines not by manual operation, but by mere “thinking” (i.e., the brain activity of human subjects) has fascinated humankind since ever. A brain-machine interface (BMI) makes it possible as it monitors the user’s brain activity and translates their intentions into actions – such as moving a wheelchair or selecting a letter from a virtual keyboard. The central tenet of a BMI is the capability to distinguish different patterns of brain activity, each being associated to a particular intention or mental task. A real challenge far from having being solved!
BMI holds a high, and perhaps bold, promise: human augmentation through the acquisition of new brain capabilities that will allow us to communicate and interact with our environment directly by ‘thinking’. This is particularly relevant for physically-disabled people, but is not limited to them. Yet, how is it possible to fulfill this dream using a ‘noisy channel’ like brain signals? Which are the principles that allow people operate complex brain-controlled robots over long periods of time?
José del R. Millán
José del R. Millán is the Defitech Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) where he explores the use of brain signals for multimodal interaction and, in particular, the development of non-invasive brain-controlled robots and neuroprostheses. In this multidisciplinary research effort, Dr. Millán is bringing together his pioneering work on the two fields of brain-machine interfaces and adaptive intelligent robotics.
He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the Univ. Politècnica de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain). He was also a research scientist at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra (Italy), a senior researcher at the Idiap Research Institute in Martigny (Switzerland), and a visiting scholar at the Universities of Stanford and Berkeley (US) as well as at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley.
His research on brain-machine interfaces was nominated finalist of the European Descartes Prize 2001 and he has been named Research Leader 2004 by the journal Scientific American for his work on brain-controlled robots. He is the recipient of the IEEE Nobert Wiener Award 2011 for his seminal and pioneering contributions to non-invasive brain-machine interfaces. The journal Science has reviewed his work as one of the world’s key researchers in the field of brain-machine interfaces. Dr. Millán is the coordinator of a number of European projects and is also a frequent keynote speaker at international events. His work has received wide scientific and media coverage around the world.