The Cybathlon will take place on October 8th, 2016 at the ETH Zurich. It is the very first Cybathlon that motivates people with disabilities to compete side by side in six domains, using the latest assistive technologies. One of these domains is the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Race. g.tec is supporting several teams that are competing in the BCI Race such as the Brain Tweakers. We talked with Serafeim Perdikis, who attended the rehearsal as a member of the Brain Tweakers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
What is your research about at the EPFL? What are your goals?
Serafeim Perdikis: “We are a team of researchers representing the Chair in Brain-Machine Interface (CNBI) laboratory led by Prof. José del R. Millán at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Lausanne. We are part of EPFL’s Center for Neuroprosthetics and Institute of Bioengineering. The focus of our research is on the direct use of human brain signals to control devices and interact with our environment. We are involved in a large set of complementary projects, which balance the development of prototypes —where robust real-time operation is critical— and the exploration of new principles for brain-computer interfacing (BCI). BCI promises to augment human capabilities by providing a new interactive link with the outside world, and BCIs are particularly relevant as aids for paralyzed people.”
Why are you participating in the Cybathlon 2016 in Zurich? What is your motivation?
Serafeim Perdikis: “The Cybathlon BMI race is an ideal venue to disseminate the progress of our research, achieve greater public awareness for our technology and, most importantly, to demonstrate its practical applicability and translational impact. Cybathlon provides an excellent opportunity for our team to rapidly advance and test our research outcomes in real-world conditions, exchange expertise and foster collaborations with other groups, as well as to push BCI technology out of the lab to provide practical daily service for end-users at their homes.”
How was the Preliminary BCI Race for you? How did it go? What positive or negative experiences did you make?
Serafeim Perdikis: “Our team was able to win the rehearsal finals, showcasing the maturity and current possibilities of our technology. Overall, it has been a very positive, constructive and, most of all, entertaining experience. It has also been extremely useful for realizing and addressing practical problems that can occur in real-world, competitive conditions. Since, at this time, our pilot was an able-bodied and very well trained user, we still regard the actual Cybathlon race as a great challenge in front of us.”
How do you feel about the strong engagement and motivation of the disabled competitors?
Serafeim Perdikis: “We strongly believe that the user-centered approach followed in Cybathlon prototype development sets a revolutionary, profitable precedent that should be adopted by all relevant research. We really think that BCI application designs that are tested in real situations, exploiting feedback from the technology’s actual end-users and involving the latter in all aspects of the implementation loop, are the only way to go. In this regard, the disabled competitor’s enthusiasm is, on the one hand, expected, since they can witness technology being developed for them and by them. On the other hand, end-user motivation is a key factor in successfully completing this project.”
Tell us more about your experiences with using g.Nautilus, the wireless EEG system.
Serafeim Perdikis: “We have considered using g.Nautilus for our participation in Cybathlon, since we believe that wireless technology is one of the straightforward ways to reduce the obtrusiveness of current BCI equipment, a major problem with deploying BCI out of the lab. However, due to certain software requirements (the g.NEEDaccess server’s interface had to comply with the Unix-based software of our BCI implementation) that have been only recently met, as well as due to some indications during the rehearsal that g.Nautilus data transmission might be vulnerable in the Cyabthlon environment (where many wireless networks are running simultaneously), we eventually opted for the g.USBamp as a safer and fairly lightweight solution.”
Are you going to win the BCI Race?
Serafeim Perdikis: “Yes! There is absolutely no doubt! :)”