Starting as early as January 2017, the staff of a secretive Facebook initiative called Building 8 have been working to make the world’s first brain-computer interfaces, devices that essentially put the functionality of a laptop in your head.
The initiative includes at least two major publicly reported projects: a noninvasive brain sensor designed to turn thoughts into text and a device that essentially lets you “hear” with your skin.
That second project is being led by Freddy Abnousi, a cardiologist who previously worked at Stanford University.
In a study published this summer and reviewed by Business Insider, Abnousi and a team of 12 other researchers created a prototype device that includes a wearable armband that vibrates to turn the roots of words into silent speech.
Facebook isn’t alone in its brain-machine interface endeavor — Neuralink, a company founded by Elon Musk, is racing to achieve the same goal, and several startups have similar projects in the works.
When Regina Dugan, the former head of a secretive Facebook hardware lab known only as Building 8, took the stage at the company’s annual developer conference in San Jose, California, last year, she announced the intent to build a device that few in the audience could believe would ever be real.
The device, she claimed, would let users hear “through their skin.”
Hundreds of journalists were quick to dismiss the idea as science-fiction. But Dugan’s initiative — now led by former Stanford University cardiologist Freddy Abnousi — appears to have turned into at least one prototype product. In a study published in July in a peer-reviewed engineering journal, a team of Facebook Building 8 researchers describe in detail, and with photographs, an armband that vibrates to allow for the roots of words to be transformed into silent speech.
Essentially, what the device appears to do is convert something that is heard — such as the sound of a news broadcast or a nearby conversation — into something that is felt in the form of vibration.
That could have a wide range of uses, from providing an alternative way (aside from American Sign Language) for members of the Deaf community to engage in conversation, to allowing someone to “listen” to something they are not permitted to hear, to allowing people to engage with a phone or computer while driving or doing some other activity.
“You could think of this as a very easy translation system where, instead of a Deaf person watching someone use American Sign Language to translate a speech, that person could simply wear one of these armbands,” a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, told Business Insider.
‘A hardware device with many degrees of freedom’
A team of 12 researchers — half of them from Building 8 — wrote the paper outlining the device, which was published on July 31 in the peer-reviewed journal IEEE Transactions on Haptics (IEEE stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
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Source:: Business Insider