There has been an increase in research interest for brain-computer interface (BCI) technology as an alternate mode of communication and environmental control for the disabled, such as patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brainstem stroke and spinal cord injury. Disabled patients with appropriate physical care and cognitive ability to communicate with their social environment continue to live with a reasonable quality of life over extended periods of time. Near-infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive technique which utilizes light in the near-infrared range (700 to 1000 nm) to determine cerebral oxygenation, blood flow and metabolic status of localized regions of the brain. In this paper, we describe a study conducted to test the feasibility of using multichannel NIRS in the development of a BCI. We used a continuous wave 20-channel NIRS system over the motor cortex of 5 healthy volunteers to measure oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin changes during left-hand and right-hand motor imagery. We present results of signal analysis indicating that there exist distinct patterns of hemodynamic responses which could be utilized in a pattern classifier towards developing a BCI. We applied two different pattern recognition algorithms separately, Support Vector Machines (SVM) and Hidden Markov Model (HMM), to classify the data offline. SVM classified left-hand imagery from right-hand imagery with an average accuracy of 73% for all volunteers, while HMM performed better with an average accuracy of 89%. Our results indicate potential application of NIRS in the development of BCIs. We also discuss here future extension of our system to develop a word speller application based on a cursor control paradigm incorporating online pattern classification of single-trial NIRS data.