Philips, Accenture prototype app would let ALS patients mind control their devices

By Jonah Comstock
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emotivMakers of EEG tracking headband devices have pitched the devices with a number of different use cases: as a biofeedback device to help the user manage stress, as a controller for gadgets, or as a quantified self device for assessing sleep. Now Philips Healthcare and Accenture have teamed up to show off the possibility of using one such device, the Emotiv Insight Brainware, to help patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to manage both their care and their life.

Patients with ALS, which is also called Lou Gehrig's disease, have gradually diminished muscle control, and can eventually become completely paralyzed without losing any other brain function. Philips and Accenture have developed a proof of concept app that would allow such a patient, equipped with an Emotiv sensor, to control Philips devices like the Philips Lifeline Emergency Alert system using only their minds. 

The tablet also connects to a Google Glass-like wearable display that the user can use to interact with the app. By thinking simple commands like "left" and "down", users can scroll through a menu that allows them to operate Philips' smart TV and smart lights as well as to send simple preconfigured messages by email or text. The app also accepts inputs via touch or eye movement controls.

“This proof of concept shows the potential of wearable technology in a powerful new way — helping people with serious diseases and mobility issues take back some control of their lives through digital innovation,” Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

In an email to MobiHealthNews, Thibaut Sevestre, innovation lead for IT architecture and platforms for Philips, stressed that the device is just a proof-of-concept prototype.

ALS Proof of Concept Infographic_FINAL

"At this point, we are exploring this concept to better understand the potential to help ALS patients have more independence," he wrote. "It is too early to speculate about the future of this technology. We’ll continue to collect feedback and explore its potential, but we cannot confirm any commercial development at this time."

The prototype has not been tested with patients, Sevestre said, although the development team did receive feedback from ALS patients about what features to include and how to set up the user interface.

"The patients told us they wanted to regain some form of independence in their lives, potentially allowing them to control their environment and communicate/interact with those around them," he wrote. "We asked them what they would want to change and improve about the application and they told us."

Sevestre said ALS was the starting point, but the technology, if realized, could also be helpful for patients with Locked-in-Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), or paraplegia.