Taking NIRS-BCIs Outside the Lab: Towards Achieving Robustness Against Environment Noise
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This paper reported initial findings on the effects of environmental noise and auditory distractions on the performance of mental state classification based on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) signals recorded from the prefrontal cortex. Characterization of the performance losses due to environmental factors could provide useful information for the future development of NIRS-based brain-computer interfaces that can be taken beyond controlled laboratory settings and into everyday environments. Experiments with a hidden Markov model-based classifier showed that while significant performance could be attained in silent conditions, only chance levels of sensitivity and specificity were obtained in noisy environments. In order to achieve robustness against environment noise, two strategies were proposed and evaluated. First, physiological responses harnessed from the autonomic nervous system were used as complementary information to NIRS signals. More specifically, four physiological signals (electrodermal activity, skin temperature, blood volume pulse, and respiration effort) were collected in synchrony with the NIRS signals as the user sat at rest and/or performed music imagery tasks. Second, an acoustic monitoring technique was proposed and used to detect startle noise events, as both the prefrontal cortex and ANS are known to involuntarily respond to auditory startle stimuli. Experiments with eight participants showed that with a startle noise compensation strategy in place, performance comparable to that observed in silent conditions could be recovered with the hybrid ANS-NIRS system.