Think2Switch wins first ST Innovations Challenge

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An Alberta research-based product using brain signals to move a wheelchair or power a toy electric car is one step closer to hitting the market.

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The Think2Switch is designed to be a bridge between brain signals and any switch-enabled home device and has received $150,000 in funding after winning the inaugural ST Innovations Challenge.

Kim Adams, the director of assistive technology labs at the University of Alberta, is a member of the Think2Switch team and said families have approached her about Brain Computer Interface systems (BCI), asking if it could help their child in care at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

“It just became obvious we needed to start looking at this technology and making it … first seeing what it was capable of, and we’ve learned it takes a lab full of people to get the system working,” said Adams, who works closely with Glenrose’s I CAN BCI program.

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“Making that translatable to the home is super, super important so that kids can play all the time, not just when they come into the lab for a session.”

Eli Kinney-Lang, lead scientist at BCI 4 Kids in Calgary, Bill Johnson, president of Ideas for Independent Living and Adam Kirton, pediatric neurologist leading the BCI4Kids team at the University of Calgary, formed the rest of the Think2Switch team.

The product was one of 14 completed applications for the challenge. A panel of reviewers selected the top four applications and those teams had a pitch-off to determine the winner.

Kinney-Lang said more than 3.5 million Canadians rely on assisted technology for daily living activities and more than 20,000 live with such severe disabilities they can’t use the technology currently available.

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“Luckily, there’s a new innovative way to interact with the world through BCI,” he said.

Kinney-Lang said BCIs do not work with existing assisted technology out of the box right away and that’s the challenge the Think2Switch is trying to address.

“We have a prototype available right now. Currently, the BCI headset connects to the Think2Switch software, that takes care of processing activity in the brain and sends it to the Think2Switch smart box and will relay that activity to a switch adapted product,” said Kinney-Lang.

The team will use the new funding to figure out how they can make it so user-friendly that families can buy the product, use it independently and confidently with minimal instruction from the Think2Switch team.

Vivian Mushahwar, ST Innovations’ director, said the goal is to continue funding devices such as the Think2Switch.

“Our goal is to make it an annual event and to provide as much support as possible to companies because really, our biggest goal is to see companies succeed, especially small companies, in taking their innovations to market and where they can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Mushahwar.

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

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