A continuous wave near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) instrument for brain-computer interface (BCI) applications is presented. In the literature, experiments have been carried out on subjects with such motor degenerative diseases as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which have demonstrated the suitability of NIRS to access intentional functional activity, which could be used in a BCI as a communication aid. Specifically, a real-time, multiple channel NIRS tool is needed to realise access to even a few different mental states, for reasonable baud rates. The 12-channel instrument described here has a spatial resolution of 30 mm, employing a flexible software demodulation scheme. Temporal resolution of approximately 100 ms is maintained since typical topographic imaging is not needed, since we are only interested in exploiting the vascular response for BCI control. A simple experiment demonstrates the ability of the system to report on haemodynamics during single trial mental arithmetic tasks. Multiple trial averaging is not required.