Neurotechnology on the brain in Latin America
On the banks of the Parana River in Rosario’s Polo Tecnológico, the Argentinians at Interactive Dynamics are developing solutions based on man-machine interfaces. Already on the vanguard with interactive displays and virtual/augmented reality, they seemed to jump into the realm of science fiction in 2011. John Paul Manson, a founding partner of the firm, left the public stunned at TedxRosario 2011 when he directed a small robot with only his brain waves just as a jedi would.
This wasn’t the result of paranormal activity, but rather neurotechnology. “We work with BCI (Brain Computer Interface) helmets that register the bio-electric signals generated by the brain,” according to Manson, which is betting on a myriad of applications. “With analysis software, the signals can be converted into computer commands.”
Since their birth, BCIs have been a natural solution for those with low motor skills or neurological damage as they permit communication via computers. For example, in 2010 Austrian company Guger Technologies demonstrated a user sending a tweet (see video below) with thoughts alone. Others, such as a Duke University biomedical engineering team lead by Brazilian Miguel Nicolelis along with the Edmond and Lily International Neuroscience Institute of Brazil and the Lausanne Polytechnic School’s Nueroprosthesis Center have experimented with devices that enable the rehabilitation of patients with motor damage on monkeys.
Health applications alone would be a good market as, according to the World Bank, there are more than 50 million people with some form of disability in in Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 10% of the population. Looking only at Argentina, there are more than 4 million potential clients. The country is above average in this regard due to the incidence of traffic accidents— which is one of the world’s highest.
However Manson and others are also aiming for more mundane applications, such as marketing. This can be achieved through creating brand experiences via mental interactions as well as detailed monitoring of consumer reactions. There is also the immense world of videogames to consider.
“There is a marked tendency for people to prefer natural user interfaces (NUI) that allows for a more intuitive and friendly way to communicate with digital devices,” explained Manson, who places a lot of faith on BCI technologies.
It’s clear that falling prices for these devices will also play a part in future developments. Firms Neurosky and Emotiv offer devices that cost as little as $150 while also permitting free development via their platforms while also being compatible with open hardware like Arduino. All of this combined is leading to the proliferation of neurotechnology start-ups. For example, Argentina’s En Orbitas is applying it to home automation and Chile’s Neurocontrol is working with videogames. This will not only increase the knowledgebase of Manson and his ilk, but it will also push the Latin market towards maturity.
Juan can be reached at juan.dalmasso(at)gmail.com