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‘Brain Speller’ wins Imagine Cup in Oz

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A combination of hardware and software designed to allow the severely disabled to communicate through computers has taken out the Australian Imagine Cup.

The Canberra University group that submitted the entry will be “Team Australia” at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2011, which will be contested by 400 students from around the world in New York this coming July.

Their “Brain Speller” combines an off-the-shelf Emotiv EPOC headset to sense activity such as movements in facial muscles (not brain-waves – I mention this because the brain-wave angle has taken off in the Australian press - El Reg). This allows the user to control the Brain Speller software.

As team leader Paul Du explained to El Reg, this allows the severely disabled – quadriplegics, stroke sufferers, or those immobilized by a variety of degenerative conditions – access to a computer. “Based on different types of movements in facial muscles, you could select characters.

“The software could, for example, show boxes on the screen. A blink on the left or the right would be used to select the box you want,” he explained. “It doesn’t actually read thoughts.”

“We’re excited by the opportunity to combine imagination and technology to create a product that will improve lives and genuinely help with an issue that affects so many people in this country.”

In preparation for their trip to New York, Du said his team will further develop the system to “get it in the best shape for when we compete against the rest of the world”.

More than 300,000 Australians need assistance communicating due to illness or disability, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. ®

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