Samsung Researchers are Working on a Mind-Controlled TV

Mike Wheatley

Samsung is reportedly working on a new TV system that uses a “Brain Computer Interface” that could allow viewers to flick through channels or adjust the volume using only their thoughts.


Samsung showed off a prototype of the system, which goes under the name “Project Ponthius”, during a developer conference in San Francisco last week.

The South Korean firm is said to be working with the Center of Neuroprosthetics of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland on the project, which is ostensibly aimed at helping people with physical disabilities such as paralysis.

Speaking at the conference, EPFL scientist Ricardo Chavarriaga the idea was to provide more accessibility to people who cannot move, or whose movements are extremely limited.

“We're making tech that is more complex, that is more intelligent, but we should not forget this tech is being made to interface with humans,” Chavarriaga said.

The Brain Computer Interface isn’t actually a new concept, and so Samsung’s TV system is actually more plausible than it might immediately sound. The devices are basically headsets covered with sensors and fitted with an eye-motion tracker, that attach to the scalp in order to pick up electronic signals from the human brain. They might sound futuristic, but in fact these devices have been around for quite a few years. Examples of applications include a brain controlled wheelchair developed by Indian robotics researcher Diwakar Vaish, which is controlled using neural impulses.

In the case of Samsung and the EPFL’s headset however, it probably needs a little more work before it goes mainstream. The main reason is that it’s currently not all that practical to use, due to the need to smear gel over the user’s head before donning the headset. They’ll also need to have a shaved head, or course. All of that probably makes them a bit more cumbersome than digging the remote out from the back of the sofa, but then again it is perhaps still a better option for those who have difficulty moving in the first place.

Despite the difficulties, Samsung and the EPLF’s researchers are pressing ahead with their experiments, and are currently taking samples of user’s brainwaves in order to understand how they behave when people are watching movies. The idea is that this could one day lead to a TV system that can take cues from viewer’s brainwaves to make predictions, followed by eye movements to confirm them. This would allow a viewer to scroll through a list of shows on Netflix for example, and select the one they want to watch using eye movements and thoughts.

The researchers are also working on a second system that doesn’t use eye-motion tracking at all, but simply brainwaves alone.