This story is from the category The Brain
Date posted: 03/05/2007
Engineers at NeuroSky Inc. have big plans for brain wave-reading toys and video games. They already have a prototype concentration game to demonstrate with.
A robotic model of Darth Vader stalks the Silicon Valley office, complete with ominous black mask, cape and light sabre.
Behind the mask is a sensor that touches the user's forehead and reads the brain's electrical signals, then sends them to a wireless receiver inside the sabre, which lights up when the user is concentrating.
The player maintains focus by channelling thoughts on any fixed mental image, or thinking specifically about keeping the light sword on. When the mind wanders, the wand goes dark.
It is undeniably primitive ? responding to any change in brainwave activity, rather than specific thoughts. However, it is a sizeable step towards non-invasive mind reading, a technology which will ultimately lead to controlling virtual avatars with thought alone.
"Most physical games are really mental games," said Lee, also chief technology officer at San Jose-based NeuroSky, a 12-employee company founded in 1999. "You must maintain attention at very high levels to succeed. This technology makes toys and video games more lifelike."
The basis of many brain wave-reading games is electroencephalography, or EEG, the measurement of the brain's electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG has been a mainstay of psychiatry for decades.
An EEG headset in a research hospital may have 100 or more electrodes that attach to the scalp with a conductive gel. It could cost 30 or 40 thousand pounds.
But the price and size of EEG hardware is shrinking. NeuroSky's "dry-active" sensors don't require gel, are the size of a thumbnail, and could be put into a headset that retails for as little as $20 (?10), said NeuroSky CEO Stanley Yang.
Researchers at NeuroSky and other startups are also building prototypes of toys that use electromyography (EMG), which records twitches and other muscular movements, and electrooculography (EOG), which measures changes in the retina.
While NeuroSky's headset has one electrode, Emotiv Systems Inc. has developed a gel-free headset with 18 sensors. Besides monitoring basic changes in mood and focus, Emotiv's bulkier headset detects brain waves indicating smiles, blinks, laughter, even conscious thoughts and unconscious emotions. Players could kick or punch their video game opponent -- without a joystick or mouse.
"It fulfills the fantasy of telekinesis," said Tan Le, co-founder and president of San Francisco-based Emotiv.
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