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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Want to watch TV? Think hard

Republic Poly students develop system that allows household appliances to be mind-controlled
The Straits Times - December 8, 2011
By: Lin Zhaowei
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Want to watch TV? Think hard Republic Polytechnic student Lin Ge, 22, demonstrating how the system allows users to switch household appliances on and off using their minds. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

THINKING about turning on the television set? Well, hold that thought.

A new system developed by students in Singapore allows users to switch household appliances on and off using just their minds. The technology could be particularly useful for the physically disabled, who struggle with everyday tasks.

It works by reading out a list of appliances such as fans, television sets or lights though a headset. When users hear the one they want, they focus their minds on it. The headset picks up the brain signal, and sends it down a wire to a smartphone. The command is then transmitted to a control box, which carries it out.

The system was created by students from Republic Polytechnic as part of their final-year project. Team member Ernest Pwi said the idea is to help the physically disabled become more independent.

'It could help them reduce the burden on their families, who now have to help them do simple things like turning off the lights,' said the 19-year-old.

The idea is an extension of a project last year by another group of final-year students, who created a mind-controlled wheelchair using the same headset.

While using brain waves to control appliances is not a new concept, the latest system has one big advantage - its relatively low cost. The headset is already commercially available at about US$99 (S$127), while the control box costs less than $500 to build. Any Apple iPhone or Android phone with the software installed can be used as the controller.

This compares with more than $15,000 for similar systems now available, said project co-supervisor Eugene Tham, a senior academic staff member of Republic Polytechnic's school of engineering.

One current limitation is that users have to wait for the voice prompt to read out the appliance they want to control. Mr Tham said researchers are working on alternative methods.

The project was among 20 showcased yesterday at the polytechnic's first technology fair on health, wellness and nutrition. The students involved are from the schools of engineering, information and communications technology, applied sciences and sports, health and leisure.

Other innovations on display included herbal drinks developed jointly by students and traditional Chinese medicine firm Eu Yan Sang, and soft-serve ice cream that contains probiotics - 'good' bacteria that is more commonly found in yogurt.

The polytechnic also signed three-year agreements to extend its research collaborations with Eu Yan Sang, NEC Asia Pacific and Renaissance Electronics.



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