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From Black Mirror to the BBC: get ready to change channels with your brain

From Black Mirror to the BBC: get ready to change channels with your brain


It's like something out of venerated British sci-fi, but it's real

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The BBC has developed a technology that allows viewers to pick TV shows to watch using their brains instead of a remote. The technology was developed in tandem with British user experience lab This Place, and it matches a person's brainwaves to television functions. During a small in-house trial, 10 BBC staff members were fitted with a small headset and an experimental version of BBC's iPlayer program. All 10 were able to launch the player and select a TV show using only their minds.

The headset reads the wearer's brainwaves by recording electrical activity in the brain, and the screen displays a concentration "volume bar" that allows the wearer to visually gauge how close they are to completing an action. Users must first concentrate to enter iPlayer. Once the program is turned on, it cycles through five popular shows, lingering on each show for 10 seconds at a time. If users focus enough on a show while it's highlighted, the program will start playing it.

Users can't navigate between shows, or search for ones that aren't listed

There are some obvious limitations to the technology's current functionality: users have no way to navigate between shows or to search for ones that aren't listed, and even the ones that are listed have to be highlighted before they can be chosen. It's hard to say whether the technology will ever match the speed and responsiveness of a remote control. But for users who can't operate traditional control mechanisms, questions about equivalency can wait — this proof of concept is a step in the right direction.