Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Emotiv System's Neural Game Controller Headset: Human-Computer Interface of the future?

The June issue of the IEEE Computer magazine arrived in my mailbox today. As I thumbed through the pages, I noticed an article about "Emotiv", neural interface in the form of a headset that serves as a game controller.

In the course of looking up information for this post, I learned that Emotiv Systems will provide an open-source SDK for developers, which is great news for me. I'm a member of IGDA's Game Access SIG, and I've taken a couple of game design courses. I'd love to see what could be done with the SDK!

Another interesting piece of news is that Emotiv is partnering with IBM to look at how this technology can be used in for 3-D applications that reach beyond gaming, such as 3D virtual social environments, training, and simulations.

Video from GDC '08:

Game Interaction via Thoughts and Facial Expressions: EPOC - Emotiv Systems Neural Interface

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Scientific American 4/14/08 Demiurge website

Head Games: Video Controller Taps into Brain Waves
(Peter Sergo)
"Emotiv Systems introduces a sensor-laden headset that interprets gamers' intentions, emotions and facial expressions"

From the Scientific American article:

"By the end of this year, San Francisco–based Emotiv's sensor-laden EPOC headset will enable gamers to use their own brain activity to interact with the virtual worlds where they play. The $299 headset's 14 strategically placed head sensors are at the ends of what look like stretched, plastic fingers that detect patterns produced by the brain's electrical activity. These neural signals are then narrowed down and interpreted in 30 possible ways as real-time intentions, emotions or facial expressions that are reflected in virtual world characters and actions in a way that a joystick or other type of controller could not hope to match."

"The EPOC detects brain activity noninvasively using electroencephalography (EEG), a measure of brain waves, via external sensors along the scalp that pick up the electrical bustle in various parts of the furrowed surface of the brain's cortex, a region that handles higher order thoughts."

To see the Emotive Neuro headset in action, take a look at a video from the
1/9/08 Scientific American Video News: Emotiv's Mind Controlled Software Suite. Wearing the headset, you can make facial expressions that are replicated on the face of an on-screen avatar. You can move items around the screen through your thoughts. The Emotive system also relies on sensing the electrical activity of muscle movements.

Emotiv EPOC overview

Demiurge Studios
is developing games for the Emotiv headset.

Emotiv's GDC '08 Press Release Photos:

"Total Communication" Partnership with IBM
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"IBM intends to explore how the Emotiv headset may be used for researching other possible applications of Emotiv's BCI technology, including virtual training and learning, collaboration, development, design and sophisticated simulation platforms for industries such as enterprise and government." via Business & Games

Example of an application controlled by the Emotiv neural headset:


Note: There were problems with the application during the demonstration. Apparently the sound crew's AV headsets interfered with the system. This is something that needs to be tested in a variety of settings. If you live in a high-density area, you are bound to be surrounded by interference. This is why out-of-the-lab testing is so important!

All of this intrigues me. I'm in the middle of neuropsychology training, learning the latest about neuroanatomy, brain function, and the evaluation and treatment of young people with traumatic brain injuries. I'm a member of IDGA's Game Access SIG. I'm also a school psychologist by day.

I know how much kids and teens might to explore this type of gaming. It looks like applications using this technology could be very useful to people who have a range of disabilities. What I'd like to see here is a way to connect the system to a haptic controller, like the Novint Falcon. Ideally, the system should work with other sorts of devices and systems.

I'm sure that in 2-3 years, the brain-comptuter interface will not rely on a headset. I'm thinking that the interface could work nicely in a "wearable", embedded into a "hoodie" or fashionable cap.

Update 6/18/08:
Discovery Tech: Upgrading Humans - Tracy Staedter chats with Desney Tan, Microsoft Research

Well, we believe that there is a lot of potential to be harvested from interfacing directly with the human physiology... So we've done a lot of work with brain-computer interfaces, using brain-sensing devices to infer what's going on in our brains, which can be pretty useful in a variety of situations."

"We've also done quite a bit sensing muscles, and other parts of the body. Many of the technologies we use utilize very simple electromagnetic sensing, since the human body is a pretty prolific generator of these signals." -Desney Tan

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Desney Tan (Photo from Discovery Tech)

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