Neural Engineering Research Group

 3D illustration. Artificial neuron in concept of artificial intelligence

What is The Neural Engineering Research Group?

The Neural Engineering Research Group provides the primary engineering thrust in the Christchurch Neurotechnology Research Programme (NeuroTech) - a collaboration between University of Canterbury (Electrical and Computer EngineeringPsychology), University of Otago (Medicine), Canterbury District Health Board (Medical Physics and Bioengineering; Sleep Unit), and the New Zealand Brain Research Institute (in which NeuroTech is based).

Lapses of responsiveness

Brief complete lapses of responsiveness (~0.5–15s) include microsleeps, lost-attention lapses, and diverted-attention lapses. All of these can be very serious, not only disrupting performance but leading to accidents and, in some cases, multiple fatalities, particularly in transport and military sectors. We have shown that microsleeps occuring in health non-sleep deprived people at a mean rate of 89/h. We are a world leader in lapse research, particularly in terms of (i) behavioural and EEG-based detection and characterization of microsleeps (ii) investigation of the underlying mechanisms of microsleeps in the brain via simultaneous-fMRI+EEG and (iii) the effects of factors such as sleep deprivation and task complexity on propensity to lapse. A major aim is the development of a software-based platform for integration with a commercially-available EEG headset to create a system able to predict lapses in real-time and provide early 'wake-up' warnings for implementation in critical real-world environments.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder, characterised by recurrent upper airway obstruction during sleep, which leads to events where breathing stops (apnoea) or becomes very shallow (hypopnoea). This respiratory disturbance leads to cyclical oxygen desaturation, sleep fragmentation, and, in turn, excessive daytime sleepiness and a substantially increased propensity for microsleeps and rish of fatal accidents on the road. In addition, we have shown that people with untreated moderate-severe OSA have substantially and chronically decreased perfusion in 3 areas of the brain during wakefulness, in addition to changes due to increased drowsiness. We consider these changes precede and probably underlie future structural abnormalities.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) during sleep is the treatment of choice for OSA but it only publically funded for severe OSA. We have a longtiundinal study underway aimed at quantifying adverse changes in perfusion, cognition, and microsleep propensity in people in people with moderate OSA and determining the extent to which these can be revsersed with CPAP treatment.

Forensic brainwave analysis

Forensic brainwave analysis (FBA) ('brain fingerprinting') is a technique, developed in the U.S. and in its infancy, in which event-related potentials (primarily P300) in response to 3 types of visual or auditory stimuli (probes, targets, irrelevants) can be used to determine whether a person has knowledge of an event, weapon, procedure, environment, etc., which only that person would have – e.g., if perpetrator of some crime. Schools of Law at Universities of Canterbury, Otago, and Massey, are aiming to bring this technique to NZ, carry out further lab- and field-based validation studies (so far, it has never been faulted), and, if all goes well, launch it as a routine procedure by NZ Police and, ultimately, be accepted by NZ Courts as evidence of a defendant being guilty or innocent. NeuroTech is part of the NZ team, providing expert evaluation of the technology and methodology, and undertaking further R&D aimed at substantially reducing the time of the FBA test (currently 3-4 hours) and pre-test preparation, while retaining its accuracy.

 

ELEC Facilities

New Zealand Brain Research Institute Facilities

Academic Staff

Postgraduate Students

Collaborators

For advice

Steve Weddell

Senior Lecturer
Director of Computer Engineering
Link Rm 510
Internal Phone: 94419

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