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Aussie invention applauded

Above: One of the inventors from the University of Canberra, Le Nguyen, tests out the “Brain Speller”.

By Yasmin Noone

A recent advance in games technology could improve the quality of life of people living with dementia, with restricted communicative abilities.

The ‘Brain Speller’, a new student invention hailing from the University of Canberra, uses a gaming headset to enable people, whose physical movements are restricted or who cannot use their voice, to communicate.

The headset, which can also be used to drive a remote controlled car, reads brain waves associated with different facial expressions through electrodes attached to the person’s scalp.

A specially created software program then translates the detected signals into speech written on a computer screen. This new technology aims to help people with paralysis, brain damage or dementia to communicate.

Leader of the university team behind the creation, Paul Du, is currently studying a Bachelor of Information Technology/Bachelor of Commerce double degree.

“This invention uses technology to give people with a variety of physical disabilities and motor conditions a better quality of life,” Mr Du said.

“It will give them more opportunities to communicate and has the potential to increase their independence.

“It’s exciting to combine imagination and technology to create a product that will improve lives and genuinely help with an issue that affects so many people.”

The invention, which won the Microsoft Imagine Cup, will be the Australian 2011 entry into the competition’s international finals in New York in July.

The competition was created nine years ago and is open to students (all ages) from more than 100 countries worldwide. It aims to motivate students to create innovative technologies which solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

This year, participants were encouraged to look to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals in developing their entry. The University of Canberra team sought to “combat widespread disease” through their invention.

Mr Du and his team mates – Kim Mai Bui (Bachelor of IT), Le Nguyen (honours in information sciences) and Lap Duong (Master of IT) – together with mentor Associate Professor Dat Tran, are now putting the finishing touches on the Brain Speller in time for the finals.

“It will be honour to represent Australia on the world stage and we expect our invention to be even better by the time we compete in New York in July,” he said.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Parker congratulated the team on continuing the University’s success in the competition.

“The Imagine Cup’s focus on finding solutions to real world problems mirrors the University of Canberra’s emphasis on professional education and applied research, and I believe this shared vision contributes to our continuing success,” Professor Parker said.

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