Brain Computer Interface (BCI) forges a direct, online communication between brain and machine, independent from the user's physical abilities and represents a new way to augment human capabilities. They translate the user's intentions into outputs or actions by means of machine learning techniques. BCI operates either by presenting a stimulus to the operator and waiting for his/her response (synchronous), or continuously monitoring the operator's cognitive activity and responding accordingly (asynchronous). BCI can otherwise be classified as active, reactive and passive.

Active BCI derives its outputs from brain activity, which is directly and consciously controlled by the user, not necessarily depending on external events, for controlling an application. Reactive BCIs are used for sending commands by focusing on specific stimuli provided by the system that evoke known brain responses when perceived. Passive BCI is a relatively newer concept, which derives its outputs from arbitrary brain activity arising without the purpose of voluntary control, for enriching human-machine interaction with implicit information on the actual user state. 

Recent developments in sensing and wireless technologies, as well as signal processing and machine learning methods allow for real-time cognitive state monitoring of mental workload, mental fatigue and attention in real-world settings, which are particularly useful for passive BCI.  Our work in BCI is mainly focussed on perceptual, motor and rehabilitative activities in unrestricted environments, typically involving relatively complex tasks, based on electroencephalography (EEG), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and video-oculography. Our aim is through the development of BCI technologies to improve safety in human-robot interactions, improve complex skills (such as surgery) training, enhance neuro-rehabilitation, and development of novel assistive technologies for the ageing population.

Research themes

Research Themes

Gaze-contingent robotic control

To develop self-calibrating and adaptive eye tracking techniques for seamless control of robots for collaborative tasks such as gaze-contingent motor channelling, learning and cooperative task execution.

Human robot interaction

To pursue the perceptual docking concept pioneered by Prof Guang-Zhong Yang for in situ operator specific motor and cognitive learning and to develop effective cooperative, shared-control methodologies for medical robots.

Perception and neuro-ergonomics

To assess cortical activities related to complex tasks (mainly in surgery) with applications to cognitive load assessment, skill-related cortical signatures, fatigue and hypovigilance detection, workflow assessment and neural-feedback.

Neurocognitive rehabilitation

To develop assistive and robot technologies for optimising rehabilitation protocols, quantitative assessment of baseline and motor re-organisation, establish neural feedback to enhance cognitive and motor performance, and promote independence, quality of life and social interaction of the ageing population and those with neurocognitive decline.

Selected publications

Howitt 2012James DR, Leff DR, Orihuela-Espina F, Kwok KW, Mylonas GP, Athanasiou T, Darzi AW, Yang GZ
Enhanced frontoparietal network architectures following "gaze-contingent" versus "free-hand" motor learning
Neuroimage. 2013 Jan 1;64:267-76

Howitt 2012Dempere-Marco L, Hu XP, Ellis SM, Hansell DM, Yang GZ
Analysis of Visual Search Patterns with EMD Metric in Normalized Anatomical Space
IEEE Trans Med Imaging, 2006 Aug;25(8):1011-21

Howitt 2012Mylonas GP, Kwok KW, James DR, Leff D, Orihuela-Espina F, Darzi A, Yang GZ
Gaze-Contingent Motor Channelling, haptic constraints and associated cognitive demand for robotic MIS
Med Image Anal. 2012 Apr;16(3):612-31

Howitt 2012Kwok KW, Sun LW, Mylonas GP, James DR, Orihuela-Espina F, Yang GZ
Collaborative gaze channelling for improved cooperation during robotic assisted surgery
Ann Biomed Eng. 2012 Oct;40(10):2156-67

Howitt 2012Sodergren MH, Orihuela-Espina F, Mountney P, Clark J, Teare J, Darzi A, Yang GZ
Orientation strategies in natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery
Ann Surg. 2011 Aug; 254(2):257-66

Howitt 2012Leff DR, Orihuela-Espina F, Athanasiou T, Karimyan V, Elwell C, Wong J, Yang GZ, Darzi AW
"Circadian cortical compensation": a longitudinal study of brain function during technical and cognitive skills in acutely sleep-deprived surgical residents.
Ann Surg. 2010 Dec;252(6):1082-90