July 10, 2015

Neuroscience, technology, computer science and creativity come together to support people with disabilities


*  The Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Starlab and the University of Barcelona presented this morning Brain Polyphony, an interdisciplinary project that aims to improve communication for people with disabilities.
*  Scientists in the project are developing a system that translates brain waves into sound. The system, which is the only one of its kind so far, creates sound based on a person’s emotions—as measured by electroencephalography (EEG) signals and cardiac response—with no requirements for motor control by the person.
*  Brain Polyphony stems from a CRG initiative to encourage its scientists to carry out translational research projects.

(July 10, 2015)  Scientists at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the research company Starlab, the group BR::AC (Barcelona Research Art & Creation) of the University of Barcelona and the Institut Hospital del Mar d'Investgacions Mèdiques (IMIM), developed a device that produces sounds from brain signals. This highly interdisciplinary team is led by Mara Dierssen, head of the Cellular & Systems Neurobiology group at CRG. Its ultimate goal is to develop an alternative communication system for people with cerebral palsy to allow them to communicate—and more specifically in this pilot phase, to communicate their emotions. Scientists are carrying out the project with volunteers who are either healthy or who have physical and/or mental disabilities, working together with the association Pro-Personas con Discapacidades Físicas y Psíquicas (ASDI) from Sant Cugat del Vallès.

"At the neuroscientific level, our challenge with Brain Polyphony is to be able to correctly identify the EEG signals—that is, the brain activity—that correspond to certain emotions. The idea is to translate this activity into sound and then to use this system to allow people with disabilities to communicate with the people around them. This alternative communication system based on sonification could be useful not only for patient rehabilitation but also for additional applications, such as diagnosis," stated Mara Dierssen. She added, "Of course, the technological and computational aspects are also challenging. We have to ensure that both the device and the software that translates the signals can give us robust and reproducible signals, so that we can provide this communication system to any patient.”

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