Last spring, someone reached out to IBM on Twitter about using artificial intelligence to help a 29-year-old woman affected by the neurological disorder Rett syndrome. The woman, named Boo, needed help communicating with the outside world. IBM’s Tim Duncan reached out to Darwin Ecosystem founder and former IBM research and development leader Thierry Hubert, and “The Cognitive Story” was born.
Less than a year later, Darwin Ecosystem, a Dallas-based big data analytics company, is a finalist for the 2018 South by Southwest Interactive Innovation Award for developing a machine that uses EEG brainwave monitoring to allow limited persons to communicate. “The Cognitive Story” is a collaborative project between Rob High, CTO of IBM’s Watson; neural-networking prodigy Tanmay Bakshi; Duncan; and Darron Goodgion from Not Rocket Science.
Before “The Cognitive Story,” the only person capable of interpreting Boo’s needs was her mother, who played a role that Hubert termed the “intimate interpreter” for her ability to decipher Boo’s tiniest indicators. Hubert says the next step of the project is going from passively reading Boo’s brain signals to interpreting her intent. And then, to developing Boo’s familiarity with “The Cognitive Story” so that she’s able to use her own willpower to illuminate an LED display to indicate various emotions and intentions.
The second wave of development also focuses on creating a more comfortable headgear, which the team has been working on with a 3D model of Boo’s head. Hubert acknowledges this is the team’s biggest challenge because the discomfort caused by the device produces a disruption to her normal brainwave pattern. However, progress is being made. “We’ve gone from the original 3D-printed model to a more comfortable Velcro base that has less electrodes,” Hubert says.
Hubert said he believes the $400,000 project is 70 percent complete, and expects the device’s final design to be ready by September. Darwin Ecosytem will host a booth at SXSW from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 11th to demo and discuss “The Cognitive Story” headgear with the public.