I'm thinking . . . change the channel

Hitachi's optical topography sensors

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: And then there's this today: good news for the very lazy. The advanced researchers at Hitachi Research Laboratory outside of Tokyo have a new technology called "optical topography" that lets you operate electronics without lifting a finger, or a leg, or an arm. No strings or cords or remotes attached. Marketplace's Rico Gagliano wanted to find out more about this immediately. Here's what he found.


Rico Gagliano: Hitachi describes the device as a "non-invasive brain machine interface for the operation of electrically controlled equipment." In other words, you can control stuff with your mind.

I asked Hitachi America VP Gerry Corbett to confirm this is as awesome as it sounds.

GAGLIANO: So, dude, this lets me control stuff with my mind?

Gerry CORBETT: Yes.

Excellent. The user wears a sci-fi-lookin' device which gauges blood flow in the brain.

CORBETT: When the brain is in an active state, like you're thinking or singing, the blood is flowing quicker, so that is analogous to an "on" signal. When the brain is calm, that could be analogous to an "off" signal.

The cost of devices with this technology? Tens of thousands of dollars. "Cool," you're thinking, "But I have this $20 remote that does the same thing." Well, businesses have more important applications in mind. Michael Kanellos is with Cnet.com.

Michael KANELLOS: Yeah, optical technology has been drawing a lot of interest in the medical fields. Hitachi is using it to study blood flow in the brain. And another company, Triage Wireless, has optical patches that monitor the diameter of your arteries.

In Japan, Hitachi's already marketed devices to victims of the degenerative muscular disease A.L.S. It lets them communicate Yes or No.

Of course, as I told Hitachi's Gerry Corbett, it's easy to see how this totally sweet invention could turn sour.

GAGLIANO: OK, when I was little, I loved Battlestar Galactica. My parents liked Masterpiece Theater. They were on at the same time. If we both had this device and we were able to change the channel with our minds? I mean, can you imagine the consequences? it could have ripped my family apart.

CORBETT: But it would certainly have made for a more dynamic family environment.

GAGLIANO: I guess that's what they have Tivo for.

CORBETT: That's right.

In Los Angeles, I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

About the author

Rico Gagliano is the host of Dinner Party Download.

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