Students in West Virginia University’sLane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering are conducting research using wearable technologies under the guidance of Frances Van Scoy.

VanscoyVan Scoy, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, was inspired to research the possible uses of wearable technologies after a friend suffered a traumatic brain injury. The injury resulted in aphasia, the impairment of language that affects the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write.

“Many victims of aphasia still have their intellect, personality and vocabulary,” Van Scoy said. “But they have difficulty communicating it to others, which is where this technology could help.”

The Emotiv neuroheadset is a high-resolution, multi-channel, portable electroencephalography system that connects wirelessly to most computer systems. The headset has 14 EEG readers that are placed around the head.

A group of students are using the Emotiv neuroheadset to create a thought-to-speech program that can be used for victims of stroke, aphasia or others maladies that affect speech. So far, the group has been able to recognize five words through the program.

“We predefine words then train the user on the word and see if they can repeat it back,” said Kathleen Baker, a senior computer science and women’s and gender studies dual major working on the project. “Currently we are using words that identify basic needs that if able to be communicated, could enhance the user’s quality of life.”

The project builds on software that Van Scoy developed with students in previous years that could distinguish between 40 pizza toppings. Baker’s group has simplified the system and made it easier to use.

EEG technologies were once so expensive, they could only be found in hospitals and medical centers, but the Emotiv neuroheadset is currently available to the public at the average price of a new gaming system.

“The Emotiv neuroheadset can be a household technology,” said Baker, who is from Parkersburg. “The possibilities are endless.”

Van Scoy is also leading research on the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display that uses custom tracking technology to integrate movement into a natural experience in a game. Both projects are currently being funded by the Lane Department.

“Fifteen years ago, the way to display 3D data was in a cave automatic virtual environment, which costs more than $1 million,” Van Scoy said . “The Oculus Rift creates the same data with much more functionality at a fraction of the cost.”

Students are currently building a gaming chair and software program to accompany the Oculus Rift that allows users to sit in the chair and move with the game. Van Scoy foresees the use of this technology being applicable for more than gaming in the future.

“Students could use the Oculus Rift to virtually walk down the street or tour a historical building that they’re learning about,” Van Scoy said. “It can change learning from something you’re told to something you experience.

“For rehabilitation purposes, this 3D visualization could help repair the executive function of the brain that is damaged in victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury. We can help get people out of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers and improve quality of life, reason enough to continue our research.”