So what can a degree in computer science lead to? You could choose to get involved with cutting-edge research like Ulster academic Dr Damian Coyle. As Professor of Neurotechnology, Damian has been recognised as one of eight researchers behind the most promising new technologies developed at UK universities. Scroll shares Dr Coyle’s life-changing work, as recently featured by The Telegraph.
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A futuristic headset that will help paralysed patients to communicate using their thoughts, a laser probe that diagnoses cancer instantly, and a new material to improve modern dentistry are among the eight inventions chosen as the most promising university spin-out technologies in the UK by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Hailing from universities across the UK, these academics are commercialising their research in ways that could improve the lives of millions of people across the world.
Dr Damian Coyle, an Ulster University professor, has spent 15 years developing mind-controlled communications in a bid to help people who have become “locked in” – paralysed and trapped in their own bodies, unable to communicate.
His start-up, NeuroCONCISE, is in the process of developing the proprietary headset and has completed the algorithms required to translate brain activity into signals that can control a computer. By just imagining the action of moving an arm or a leg, patients can not only prove that their brains are active and aware, they can communicate with doctors and loved ones, learn to say “yes” and “no”, and work towards their physical rehabilitation.
The technology has huge implications for those left without any movement following a stroke, brain or spinal injury.
“Until a few years ago, many people were diagnosed as vegetative because it was very challenging to prove awareness,” said Dr Coyle. “If you can’t respond overtly to commands, or do ‘gaze following’ reliably, you will be diagnosed as vegetative or minimally conscious.”
Using a headset that reads brain activity, NeuroCONCISE can prove that patients are aware, show that they understand language and teach them to imagine moving different parts of the body to communicate words such as “yes” and “no”.
The technology could come to market within a year, Dr Coyle said.
It is estimated that there are 280,000 people classed as “minimally conscious” worldwide and 61,000 who are “vegetative” in the UK and US.
“Imagine that you are not vegetative but you’ve been diagnosed as such,” Dr Coyle said. “It’s assumed that you don’t need any stimulation and you’re put in a corner of the room and left there.”
Researchers have been awarded up to £60,000 through the RAE’s Enterprise Hub and will spend the next year developing a spin-out business based on their innovations.
We are looking forward to following Damian’s progress and we will keep you posted!