Brain-computer interfaces: new era begins at the University of Essex

The new BCI-NE laboratory will help improve life for people with cognitive and motor disabilities

A new laboratory is set to place the University of Essex at the forefront of research into brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and neural engineering (NE).

Started in 2004, the BCI-NE lab has moved to a bigger, state-of-the-art new home in the university’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. It is the largest and best equipped of its type in the country and one of the largest in Europe.

BCIs can be used for capturing brain signals and translating them into commands, allowing their users to communicate or control external devices – such as computers, robots, rehabilitation technology and virtual reality environments – using just thought.

These technologies are designed to improve communication, decision-making, motor control, memory, attention, learning and problem solving. They can greatly benefit individuals with cognitive and motor disabilities, including those affected by stroke, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders.

With the new lab up and running we can now start a new era in BCI-NE research – Professor Reinhold Scherer

The new facility includes three soundproofed Faraday cages (which reduce electromagnetic and ambient noise during experimentation), top-of-the-range brain activity recording devices including electroencephalography (EEG) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy, brain stimulation devices, a sophisticated robotic positioning system and virtual reality systems.

It will also be a hub for the provider’s new BEng Neural Engineering with Psychology, which launches this October.

“With the new lab up and running we can now start a new era in BCI-NE research at Essex,” said Professor Reinhold Scherer, co-director of the laboratory.

“We are fortunate to have many talented lab members, committed and inquiring students, and an engaging interdisciplinary university environment. This enables us to think ‘outside the box’ and ask the right research questions. Coupled with the ability to provide researchers access to state-of-the-art facilities, we aim to take on a leading position in the research community.”

The BCI-NE research group’s work has been funded by the Ministry of Defence, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and Horizon 2020, and is leading two large US-UK projects co-funded by the US Department of Defence worth $16.5m.

Read more: University of Essex announces five-year plan to boost student numbers by a fifth

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