Brain-computer typing interface bags top BPI DOST Project of the Year award for Nieles of UST Engineering 

University of Santo Tomas (UST) Electronics Engineering student Jay Patrick M. Nieles received top honors for his research on helping Locked-in Syndrome patients communicate through a brain-computer typing interface. Nieles was recognized during the August 2, 2019 30th Science Awards of the Bank of the Philippine Islands Foundation, Inc. and the Department of Science and Technology (BPI-DOST) held on August 2, 2019 at the Alphaland City Club in Makati City.  

Feted with the sole Project of the Year Award and one of the two Best in Innovation Awards, Nieles received trophies and cash prizes of PhP 25,000 and PhP 20,000, respectively.

With the theme, “Moving the Nation towards Sustainable Development through Science and Innovation,” the BPI-DOST Science awards recognized 30 students for generating scientific research projects and innovations in applied science, health and allied science, physical science, and other related fields. Nieles’ study aimed to enable communication with locked-in syndrome patients to increase their quality of life. Locked-in Syndrome, a form of severe paralysis results in total loss of motor ability including speech and is usually obtained due to traumatic brain injury, neural damage, or most commonly, stroke. 

As Nieles’ project brief video explains, stroke is the second leading cause of death in the Philippines, with 15 million adults affected worldwide, and 5 million permanently disabled. At present, there is no specific medical treatment for it and those affected with the syndrome are limited to blinks and vertical eye movement for basic communication. His research proposed a solution: patients could think of a command and express words displayed on screen, or what Nieles calls in the same video, “typing by thinking.”

The project entry, titled “Electroencephalogram (EEG)-based Brain Computer Typing Interface Using Imagined Characters for Locked-In Syndrome Patients,” involved a brain-computer typing interface using visual imagination of basic shapes and letters. Brain signals were recorded and machine learning was used to classify the aforementioned signals.

Originally titled “Characterization of EEG Signal Patterns During Visual Imageries of Basic Structures for the Development of Brain-Computer Typing Interface for Locked-In Syndrome Patients,” the study was originally published as part of the conference proceedings of the 2018 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 10th International Conference on Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Communication and Control, Environment and Management (HNICEM). UST Faculty of Engineering mentor and neuroengineer Seigfred Prado served as Nieles’ research adviser. 

A top student and a track and field athlete of the University of Santo Tomas in the UAAP, Nieles graduated Magna cum Laude in June 2019.

Two Thomasians who were also part of the 30 BPI-DOST Science Awardees for 2019 were: Chemical Engineering student Hazel Anne Pullan, who developed biodegradable plant grow bags and Biology student Marielle Go, who developed a diagnostic method for Tilapia Lake Virus.

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