So how did I become the Pilot for The Brainstormers Team?
Well, 28 years ago I ended up as a wheelchair user after diving into a swimming pool and hitting my head on the bottom, breaking my neck at cervical level C5/6. That is now over half my life spent using a wheelchair rather than walking. This left me with limited arm movement, no hand or finger movement and no movement below the shoulders.
My life was obviously turned upside down in a split second! I spent six months in a Spinal Injuries Centre learning all about how to live a very different life and I was then back home in the “real world” again. This is when you learn about how it is easy to take even the simplest things for granted. Getting out of bed and getting dressed, simply picking up a glass. So many things are difficult or impossible to do.
I was reading an article about The Brainstormers Team and The Cybathlon on how a group of PhD students, from The University of Essex, were trying to “let you communicate without speaking or moving – meaning humans would be able to operate computers, robots or virtual reality environments using just neurosignals, even if they had no control of their muscles”. After reading this I just had to become involved.
Maybe all the Sci-fi books and films I’ve seen and read over the years whetted my appetite? I love technology. I can see how technology can make a difference to everyone’s life. Look at mobile phones. 20 years ago no one had a mobile phone. Now mobile phones are computers. What does the next few years have in store?
The article led me to expect (well hope) to be taken down a dark corridor with water dripping down stone walls, poorly lit with flickering torch lights deep in the darkest reaches of The University, where I would meet a group of scientists “The Brainstormers!!” Sadly it turned out to be a well-lit corridor in an ordinary room with a few laptops and a TV screen. The team even seemed quite normal. But then my romantic ideals of Frankenstein’s laboratory perhaps were asking too much.
What motivated me to participate? Well I’ve always lived my life to its fullest before ending up as a wheelchair user and it’s continued since then. Seeing what The Brainstormers hoped to accomplish was fantastic!
What expectations do I have from taking part or the future of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Technology? That is almost as hard or easy to answer as “Do you expect to walk again?” I think the potential is immense although this may take some time to get there. I’m lucky as I can move my arms. I have learnt to hold things even though I can’t grip with my fingers. But my strength and abilities are still very limited. If I had no arm movement then what? Constantly having to ask someone “Can you please do this for me?” would have meant a very different life. I can see that and because of that I can empathise with someone with a more restricting level of disability than I have. My expectations are that BCI technology will improve lives.
If BCI technology leads to someone being able to “think” to a computer “wheelchair forward, stop, turn right, left” or “open front door” or ……. well the list of things we all take for granted is very, very long.
So my expectations are that this will make life easier, better, richer for disability groups. Hey it will make computer games unbelievable for EVERYONE too! The power of the human mind is almost limitless. Capturing it and using it ….. Who knows where this will go…… it is very exciting to be involved though!