by Dr. Thorsten O. Zander
Technical University of Berlin
Passive Brain-Computer Interfaces provide a fascinating technology that can be applied to significantly improve Human-Computer Interaction. The young community of this research field held its first meeting in July this year, providing a fascinating, promising perspective on the potential of this technology.
In 2008 the term “Passive Brain-Computer Interface” (passive BCI) was defined for the first time at the CHI conference in Florence, Italy, and later in 2011 refined in the context of a journal publication . In the course of these three years the concept continued to be the subject of thorough, controversial discussion.
Compared to classic BCIs the new passive BCIs are not restricted to be applied to direct control that is consciously manipulated by the user. Instead, it can be seen as a kind of user state monitoring that is implemented in a given human-computer interaction such that technology learns to adapt to its user by interpreting the information provided by the passive BCI about the user´s cognitive and affective state. Another main difference is that it indeed makes sense to apply passive BCI technology to users without any disability as well. Hence, passive BCIs connect the research field of Brain-Computer Interfaces with that of Human-Computer Interaction, Human Factors, and System Design. In 2011 this perception finally led to an extension of the initial definition of BCI in Jonathan Walpaws publication “Brain–computer interfaces: something new under the sun. Brain-Computer Interfaces: Principles and Practice” .
While this orientation process took place, several researchers from around the world joined the endeavor of exploring the potential of passive BCIs. After meeting many of them on multiple conferences, I decided it was about time to initiate a meeting in order for all these various groups to get to know each other and coordinate their research. Luckily, the Institute for Advanced Study in Delmenhorst (Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg) shared my enthusiasm and decided to support me in setting up the meeting. With additional backup from Brain Products and other companies as well as my colleagues from Team PhyPA, we had sufficient resources to host the meeting, which finally took place from 16th to 18th July this year.
I was astonished to see that 6 years after the definition of passive BCIs a total of 42 researchers from North and South America, Israel and 9 European countries joined the gathering in order to discuss their research. However, not only the geographic distribution of the participants was remarkable, their professional backgrounds in the fields of Physiological Computing, Mobile Brain/Body Imaging, User State Monitoring, Adaptive Brain-Reading for Robotics, and classic BCI research were just as impressive. We were lucky that leading researchers from these fields of expertise followed our invitation to hold a lecture on their perspectives on passive BCI research. It was an honor and inspiration that all these renowned researchers attended the meeting. In addition to the invited speakers, researchers in different stages of their career gathered to share their ideas and thoughts. I was very happy that everyone participated enthusiastically and already could see a new community rising.
We received very positive feedback from the participants as well as from the hosts at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg. I am looking forward to the progress of this young community and am excited to organize a second meeting, which is planned for July 2015. If you are interested in our community, please feel free to have a look at our website (www.passivebci.org), the website of thefirst meeting (http://www.h-w-k.de/index.php?id=2153) or contact me directly.
Dr. Thorsten O. Zander
Team PhyPA, Biological Psychology and Neuroergonomics, Technical University of Berlin, Germany
 Wolpaw, J. R., & Wolpaw, E. W. (2012). Brain–computer interfaces: something new under the sun. Brain-Computer Interfaces: Principles and Practice, 3-12.
©Brain Products GmbH 2014