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Brain-controlled Games and Devices March 21, 2007

Posted by breichen in innovation, Technology.

The possibility of controlling devices by using one’s mind alone has been a subject frequently depicted in the world of science fiction. What used to be fiction however, is now a reality. Two companies in California, Emotiv Systems and Neurosky, have promised that systems controlled by mere thoughts are going to be available on the market within the next year. The technology being used by these two organizations is known aselectroencephalography, or EEG. EEG works by ” deploying an array of electrodes over a person’s scalp and recording surface manifestations of the electrical activity going on under his skull.” These companies are using the technology, which was previously used only in the medical field, to allow the transportation of brain waves to be used in computer games. This would enable people to control the operations of a computer using their thoughts alone (Very Cool).

Tedious fiddling about with mice and joysticks will become irritants of the past.

The EEG technique is currently used mostly in the medical field, where crude brain waves are the outputs of electrodes placed on a persons head. Analysis of these patterns allows doctors use the waves to identify unhealthy abnormalities. Controlling computers by using brain waves has long been considered within the realm of possibility, although there were two significant impediments–those of hardware and software. The hardware issue is that current EEG techniques use a large helmet with as many as 120 electrodes in it, which have to be attached to the scalp with a conducting gel. The software issue is that to use these brainwaves i na computing environment, a huge number of brainwaves must be interpreted instantly and simultaneously.

Neurosky and Emotiv Systems believe that they have solved both of these problems. Emotiv has announced that they have developed a headset with only 18 electrodes that does not require gel to make sufficient contact with a wearer’s scalp. Emotiv explains that “its system can detect brain signals associated with facial expressions such as smiles and winks, different emotional states such as excitement and calmness, and even conscious thoughts such as the desire to move a particular object.” While the specifics of the technology have not been released, it is apparently successful enough that smiling can cause a person’s character in a game to smile, or to move things around by the person who is playing thinking about moving things around. In order to encourage others to create more possibilities of EEG in the computer world, Emotiv has released a software developers kit so that this technology can be expanded. It will also allow programmers to go back and rewrite code for existing games so that the Emotive headset can be used with existing games and applications.

According to Nam Do, Emotiv’s boss, those applications are most likely to be single-player computer games running on machines such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3. In the longer term, though, he thinks the system will be ideal for controlling avatars (the visual representations of players) in multiplayer virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Emotiv’s competitor, Neurosky, has stated that they have reduced the size of an EEG headset even further, consisting of only one electrode which is small enough to fit in a mobile phone. While it is not as sensitive or accurate as Emotiv’s 18 sensor headset, it is significantly cheaper and seems to be quite promising.

This technology is incredibly cool and if properly developed it could change the way we use and think of computers. Imagine being able to write and edit a paper merely by sitting in front of your computer and thinking? Perhaps investing in these companies now might be a good idea.



1. Kira - March 21, 2007

Wow, it is truly amazing what technology can do. After reading this blog, so many questions came to mind such as: will the technology of the headsets have any negative medical consequences? how would a company go about implementing this new technology? what would this do to the culture of a company? would this promote efficiency or laziness? how feasible is it financially for a company to use this technology? how would a company be able to maintain and repair technology as advanced as this? how would you get your employees used to this new technology? is there any training that would be required?

2. Janine - March 22, 2007

This is frightening. I mean, it is interesting, but I think brain controlled video games are taking the industry too far. I think half the fun is getting involved, being active with the joysticks and controllers. Also, we have gotten so used to using controllers, to not use them would be difficult to grasp.

3. Abby - March 24, 2007

Surely, instead of brain-controlled video games, this technology could expand so that people who have suffered the loss of a limb, could then control an artificial limb electronically?

If this was to be expanded, even more, beyond the game… its scary how far it could go. If these ‘brain games’ were applied to machines elsewhere, surely we could fight a war without any of our men out in the field…

4. Jordi - March 25, 2007

What would it do for people who have physical injuries or disabilities? Should it be fast-tracked for them?

Different point: the functions of the brain are highly specialized. I think you should be cautious in assuming that all brain functions can be easily transmitted into action. A smile is, in fact, very primordial. Babies at a few days old recognize faces and smiles. They have not, yet, been known to write a B or even a D paper.

5. Charley S - March 28, 2007

In answer to the questions of medical applications for this product. My father is currently working on a project with DARPA (Which is the defense departments medical research program) that uses nerve impulses to control a robotic arm. The project is recieving a lot of attention because of its applications for wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The system usese technology similar to what was discussed in the article, and can have drastic affects on the quality of life of wounded soldiers. Technology is awesome.

6. Brian Mulligan - April 1, 2007

Interesting blog and great comments. I think that what Charley’s Dad is doing is incredible. If this techology becomes available, it will revolutionize the gaming world. Being a kid that grew up with Nintendo and Playstation, I think that this would be an awesome improvement. I mean the controllers today respond to person’s movement ie Nintendo Wii, but controlling a game with your mind would be the next step. Sometimes in a game you want to do something, but a controller just doesn’t cut. Imagine you could drive the car in a video game the way that your brain perceieves it. WOW!

7. Thomas Abraham - April 27, 2007

I wish I could be used in this kind of study. Believe it or not, I am able to increase my heart rate with my mind, and I can “feel” my brain and “move around” on the inside also. From the Frontal Lobe to the Occipital Lobe. I would like to go to a doctor to see what they think, but I don’t want them thinking I am weird or something…and I’ll feel stupid.
If anyone reading this was intrigued please feel free to E-mail me at tomasa816@yahoo.com

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