Archive for the 'EEG' Category

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Brain Monitoring News

There have been some interesting EEG related stories lately:

I’ve followed BCI: Brain Computer Interface and EEG work for a long time. There is still a long way to go on the “mind reading” front, but these types of developments are all encouraging.

Personal EEG-based Communications Device

The IntendiX (by g.tec) is a BCI device that uses visual evoked potentials to “type” messages on a keyboard.

The system is based on visually evoked EEG potentials (VEP/P300) and enables the user to sequentially select characters from a keyboard-like matrix on the screen just by paying attention to the target for several seconds.

P300 refers to the event related averaged potential deflection that occurs between 300 to 600 ms after a stimuli. This is a BCI research platform that has been made into a commercial reality.  The system includes useful real-life features:

Besides writing a text the patient can also use the system to trigger an alarm, let the computer speak the written text, print out or copy the text into an e-mail or to send commands to external devices.

I’m usually skeptical of “mind reading” device claims (e.g. here), but P300-based technology has many years of solid research behind it. It may be pricey ($12,250) and typing 5 to 10 characters per minute may not sound very exciting, but this device would be a huge leap for disabled patients that have the cognitive ability but no other way of communicating.

(hat tip: medGadget)

UPDATE (3/24/10): Mind Speller Lets Users Communicate with Thought

The BCI X Prize

As announced at a recent MIT workshop: The BCI X PRIZE: This Time It’s Inner Space:

The Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) X PRIZE will reward nothing less than a team that provides vision to the blind, new bodies to disabled people, and perhaps even a geographical “sixth sense” akin to a GPS iPhone app in the brain.

As I’ve discussed many times (e.g. BCI: Brain Computer Interface), “mind reading” with EEG is a huge challenge. Another hurtle they have to overcome:

The foundation must court donors to make the $10 million+ prize a reality. Once funding is secured,…

That will be the easy part.

The problem with the X Prize incentive approach is one of expectations.  If people believe that Avatar-like advances (“new bodies”) is a realisitic result, they will be sorely disappointed.

Even though I’m a certified “mind reading” skeptic I think great BCI strides will inevitably be made. The good news is that these innovations will provide numerous benefits for handicapped individuals.

UPDATE (2/5/10): Here’s a great example: Technology Behind Second Sight Retinal Prosthesis

More on the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

Even though it has been over 6 months, my Zeo scam post is suddenly getting some comment traction. I thought I’d respond to some of these as well as clarify my thoughts.

I’m not really sure why Krunz thinks I’m an idiot.

First, I never said that changes in life style do not affect the quality of sleep. They do indeed. For example, for OSA (obstructive sleep apnea):

Some treatments involve lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and medications that relax the central nervous system (for example, sedatives and muscle relaxants), losing weight, and quitting smoking. Some people are helped by special pillows or devices that keep them from sleeping on their backs, or oral appliances to keep the airway open during sleep.

Second, I did say that because the ZQ score is based on sleep staging (no matter how crude), I can believe that an increased ZQ is indicative of better sleep.

My problem with the Zeo device is the claim that ZQ score improvement is caused by any particular life style change. This would be very difficult to validate.

Let’s say you recorded your ZQ score for 30 days without making any life style changes. There will be an inherent variability in the ZQ score that results from a variety of sources — electrode placement, user movement during sleep, etc.  Unless an introduced life style change can make a statistically significant change to the ZQ score you can not attribute causality to it. And even if there was a significant ZQ change you would still need to somehow prove that there were no other factors involved.

RobertF was not only more civil, but he took the time to detail his opinions and asked some good questions about mine. Here are my responses:

1. The red flag for me is when you make unvalidated claims. Anecdotal evidence of an improved ZQ score though “sleep coaching” is not validation.

The same is true for the “alarm clock” functionality. Zeo and others (e.g. Actigraphy) make similar claims about waking during lighter periods of sleep reducing sleep inertia.  Again, there is anecdotal evidence and even some testable theories, but a lot more research needs to be done in this area.

2. On one hand, Zeo does not claim that this is a therapeutic or a diagnostic device. From their web site:

The Zeo Personal Sleep Coach is neither a medical device nor a medical program and is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of sleep disorders.

On the other hand they also say the Zeo provides:

…personalized sleep information and customized action steps to improve your Sleep Fitness™

Think about it. In one breath they say it isn’t, and then in the next they say it is!  It has nothing to do with FDA approval per se. It’s the contradictory claims that bother me.

3. I don’t think I was incredulous about this. I’ve mentioned several times that I think the dry sensor EEG technology probably provides enough signal quality to do a reasonable job of sleep staging.

4. It is the lack of “clinical validation” that is the most problematic for me. Basic sleep research may be heading in this direction — combining “sleep science, sleep education, neuroscience, behavioral psychology,…” — but they still have a long way to go.

5. Why would anybody that doesn’t have a sleep problem buy this product? If I did have sleep problems $350 would probably be well worth it, as long as it actually worked!  Sergey agrees.  If it didn’t work, I’d want my money back — and so would you.

6. You may not have any connection to the Zeo company, but the advisory board members are all paid to be there. I am not saying that this in any way lessens their scientific or professional credentials. On the contrary,  a good advisory board should be asking tough questions and doing their best to improve the product.

Wrap Up:

OK, I’ll admit it.  Maybe “scam” is too harsh. The reason I chose that term was because of its definition as a confidence trick:

an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence

When I first read about the Zeo I felt that their presentation of the sleep science and technology was an attempt to gain a customer’s confidence. Beyond that there was little evidence that this product would help people.

I do not have any ill will towards Zeo. It appears that their customer service and return policies (30 day full refund) are good. As a medical device developer, I’m just pointing out what I think are important issues about this device.

I still maintain that the claims made by Zeo are misleading. You need to be able to show scientific evidence that the ZQ score actually does track with life style changes. Unless I’m missing something, Zeo has not done this.

Depth of Anesthesia Reality Check

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen MedGadget express such a strong opinion about a technology.

Masimo Invests in Anesthesia Awareness Technology. Good Move? We Don’t Think So doesn’t pull any punches.

What’s interesting to me is that SEDLine was Hospira’s brain function monitoring business (see here).  Hospira bought the technology from a Boston-based company called Physiometrix in 2005.

Back in my EEG days I had a chance to work with Physiometrix. We interfaced with their EEG front-end hardware in an attempt to develop an OEM relationship.  At the time, they were using essentially the same Bispectral index (BIS) technology as Aspect Medical.  The only other thing I remember is that they were also using QNX.

MedGadget’s skepticism seems well founded. On the other hand, the people at Masimo (a couple of which I know) aren’t dummies . They may know something the rest of us don’t.

Actigraphy for Better Sleep?

I previously questioned the efficacy of the Zeo “Personal Sleep Coach” and concluded that this device would be unlikely to provide their claimed sleep improvements.

Another method for monitoring sleep patterns is with the use of Actigraphy*. I seriously doubt that these movement-based devices can do any better:

At least the Zeo device uses an EEG-based sleep histogram for determining sleep state. How can the acitigraph tell the difference between someone just laying awake quietly versus deep sleep?

*This Wikipedia entry reads like an advertisement for one these devices!

Is the Zeo “Personal Sleep Coach” a Scam?

It’s hard to believe that MedGadget covered the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach as if it were a real medical device.

At first the technology looks intriguing:

  • Softwave™ Sensor Technology (wireless)
  • Bedside Display
  • Web and Database Technology

So far so good. Then you get:

  • Personalized Sleep Coaching Program
  • SmartWake™ Alarm (optional)


and the Zeo 7 Steps to Sleep Fitness are:

  1. Evaluate your Sleep Fitness
  2. Relax your way to sleep
  3. Build your bedroom sanctuary
  4. Optimize your sleep schedule
  5. Adopt the Power Down Hour™
  6. Eat and drink smart for sleep
  7. Harmonize with your housemates

All for only $399 (with free shipping).

Now the fine print:

Zeo Personal Sleep Coach is neither a medical device nor a medical program and is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of sleep disorders. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, consult your physician.

Is this for real?  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — No FDA approval.

I can believe that these sensors are capable of collecting EEG that could be used for sleep staging.  But even that hasn’t been proven true. An abstract accepted  for presentation is interesting but is not validation. The technology here is the confidence part of the trick.

They claim to use the sleep histogram (personal sleep score or “ZQ”) along with on-line analysis as a metric for determining if any of the  7 “Sleep Fitness” steps are actually helping.  Based on normal ranges of sleep stage percentages during the night these metrics may well tell you if a person slept “normally”, but can ZQ changes really be attributed to some lifestyle alteration? Where’s the clinical validation for this?

Also, the technology is supposed to:

find what could be a “natural awakening point” – when it could be a little easier to get out of bed in the morning.

It could, huh?

Anyone that would shell out money for a product like this probably has a real sleep disorder and should see a medical professional for evaluation.

Most sleep disorders are caused by apnea events anyway. A real ambulatory polysomnography (PSG) system (e.g. the Somté) includes EEG, EOG, and a full complement of breathing parameters (airflows, pressures, and SaO2).

To me anyway, the Zeo device and program will help very few people and appears to be another direct-to-consumer rip-off.

UPDATE (1/17/2010):  More on the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

Improving EEG Analysis

neuro_brain1The Technology Review article Better Brain-Wave Analysis looks at start-up ElMindA that is trying to find new quantitative methods for broadening the clinical use of EEG.

The company has developed a novel system that calculates a number of different parameters from EEG data, such as the frequency and amplitude of electrical activity in particular brain areas, the origin of specific signals, and the synchronicity in activity in two different brain areas as patients perform specific tests on a computer.

This description doesn’t sound very novel, but I’ve always felt that EEG analysis has tremendous clinical potential. This is particularly true for rehabilitation purposes (like the stroke example) and EEG-based communications for paralysis patients.

I am skeptical of  “objective diagnosis” claims for things like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) though.  In the 1980’s EEG Topography was thought to be able to distinguish some psychiatric disorders. These claims were never proven to be true.

I’m not saying that new quantitative techniques like those being developed by ElMindA are comparible to the old EEG “brain mapping”, but significant clinical validation will be required before they can be used clinically.

UPDATE (6/3/09):  Another related article (also from Technology Review) Reading the Surface of the Brain (and cool picture):


UPDATE (6/10/09): The BrainGate project at Massachusetts General Hospital has recently started clinical trials that may help paralyzed patients. The on-going MGH project:

… the ultimate goals of which include “turning thought into action“: developing point and click capabilities on a computer screen, controlling a prosthetic limb and a robotic arm, controlling functional electrical stimulation (FES) of nerves disconnected from the brain due to paralysis, and further expanding the neuroscience underlying the field of intracortical neurotechnology.

UPDATE (7/5/09): This is more related to Brain Control Headsets, but if you’re interested in developing your own EEG-based controller you should check out An SDK for your brain. The free NeuroSky MindSet Development Tools along with a $200 headset will get you started developing your own “mind-controlled” game. Good luck with that!

EEG-based Lie Detector Convicts Murder Suspect in India

India’s Novel Use of Brain Scans in Courts Is Debated details how the Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) test  was used to convict a 24 year old woman of murder. It was reported in July (This brain test maps the truth) that the BEOS test was found admissible in court in two murder cases.

I’ve discussed Mind Reading Software a number of times in the past, including Brain Fingerprinting (also see here).  A more thorough analysis of this type of EEG technology, BEOS, and fMRI can be found here: Is Guilt Written in the Brain? There are several good links to scientific papers on the subject, and it also hits the nail on the head with this conclusion about the murder conviction:

At this point this is the equivalent of using pseudoscience in the courtroom. This is as irresponsible as basing a verdict on the ramblings of a psychic – except that it comes with the trappings of science and legitimacy.

(Hat tip: Medgadget)

UPDATE (9/20/08):

This is related, but not worth another post: The Army’s Totally Serious Mind-Control Project (Hat tip: Slashdot). The goal is to “lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone.” That’s pretty ambitious. They reference the Emotiv headset, but the whole concept of using EEG-based systems for any type of control purposes is still a stretch. Fortunately, the investment is small — the Army probably spends more than $4 million a day on toilet paper.

Moving Mountains With the Brain

In today’s New York Times business section there’s a piece called: Moving Mountains With the Brain, Not a Joystick. I’ve previously discussed both of the mentioned EEG-based headsets here.The article highlights some of the problems that this type of technology will face in the consumer marketplace:

“Not all people are able to display the mental activity necessary to move an object on a screen,” he said. “Some people may not be able to imagine movement in a way that EEG can detect.”

I agree. Even though Emotiv claims that “all 200 testers of the headset had indeed been able to move on-screen objects mentally” it’s very doubtful that the device will have that level of success (100%!) with real gamers.They talk about the use of facial muscle activity (EMG) in addition to the EEG signal. With proper electrode placement, I think EMG holds far more promise for enhancing the gaming experience. Even EOG could be used effectively as a feedback and control mechanism. Reliable EEG processing for this purpose is still a long way off.

UPDATE (6/17/08): More of the same: No Paralysis in Second Life

UPDATE (6/29/08): Here’s a pretty good description of how these devices are being used for control purposes:  OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator (The flying car of control schemes).

UPDATE (7/21/08): An even more thorough evaluation: OCZ NIA Brain-Computer Interface. A generally positive and realistic assessment of the technology:

…the NIA isn’t a replacement for traditional input methods, it is merely a powerful supplement.




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