Brain-controlled games coming closer to the mass market

“It’s like the Force,” said the darth-vader clad demonstrator of a new neurofeedback device. As his brain becomes more focused, a “light saber” he is holding starts to flare up. The feedback mechanism controlling the light saber is crude, and is just meant as an example, but what is unique about the latest generation of biofeedback devices is how easily they can be used by the general public, who wouldn’t normally bother with awkward head caps or messy electrode paste.

The neurofeedback device used to control the light-saber can be used without electrode paste, and operates more like a pair of headphones than an EEG:

 

These headsets have been distributed to game and toy makers, and hopefully that will result in some exciting new games brought to the market in the near future. The company said it could also be used in MP3 players, allowing it to adapt the music to the mood of the listener.

Another gaming system that has been around for a while is called the Play Attention, which uses a bicycle helmet converted to an EEG device to detect the wearer’s brain activity. It is designed mostly for children, and seems geared specifically toward helping with ADD. The company claims it is currently being used in over 400 school systems.

We had a chance to experiment with another system that is relatively simple to use,  called IBVA, which you can check out here: http://www.ibva.com/. Instead of traditional electrodes, it incorporates the use of a simple headband. The headband used disposable electrodes that would snap in when you needed them. It was very user friendly, but probably still not what the majority of consumers want to deal with. It was also quite pricey, at $1800+.

A problem with bringing neurofeedback technology to the public has always been price, but that is changing as well. NeuroSky, the company behind the brain controlled light saber, say they will have their headphone-looking device out this year, and that it will be priced at $50. “The technology has been around for a hundred years,” company spokesman Greg Hyver said. “The problem was the cost, and we fixed that.”

Another problem with these systems is that they seem largely restricted to measuring from the forehead. This is no problem if all you want to measure is concentration, but can be very limiting if you want to “train” a different part of the brain, or measure deeper states of relaxation. This is one of the reasons we ultimately couldn’t use the IBVA system for our work. I don’t know how any of these other devices will overcome this limitation, aside from requiring that users shave their heads. But, for students, children and many adults, this kind of system would be ideal, and at $50… why not?

 

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