Archive for March, 2008

TED Talk On Biofeedback

If you haven’t viewed any of the TED videos, you’ve been missing out. There are some really stunning and thought-provoking ideas floating around.

Released this month is a short talk by neuroscientist Christopher deCharms, on the future of biofeedback technology. More specifically, he talks about the use of a rtfMRI, or “Real-time Functional MRI.”

Mental drumming

The Scientist released article today about a show in New York called “Trio for percussion and brain waves”.

The show consisted of three percussionists using their thoughts of drumming to create the performance. Their brain activity was measured, and certain spikes in that activity caused the instruments to play.

The fascinating part, to me, is that this was a trio – three people on stage, harmonizing with each other, using nothing but brainwaves.

From the article:

As a rapt audience watched, sounds issued from three laptops connected to the drummers by Bluetooth technology. The musicians’ brainwaves traveled through the air, triggering tones from the computers before leaping to life on the 12-foot-high screen hanging behind them.

The performance was part of an experiment designed by David Sulzer, Columbia University neuroscientist. It demonstrated Sulzer’s idea that thinking about an action could stimulate the brain in much the same way as actually carrying it out. 

 

When one of the three musicians started a mental music piece and the other two tried to accompany it, the brainwaves of the three synced up intermittently. “That was because they constantly needed to catch up with each other,” said Sulzer.

Here’s the article: http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/54510/ 

David Sulzer explains the process behind this more in a video here: http://scienceline.org/2008/03/26/video-intagliata-brainmusic

Thoughts on Mind-Gaming

Mind-based gaming is all over the news lately. The concept is being met with equal parts excitement, skepticism and downright paranoia. Who likes the idea of Microsoft “reading your thoughts”?

Of course, to those of us in the EEG industry, “mind gaming” is nothing new. On this blog I’ve written many posts about EEGs being used to play games, or move online avatars. You’ve seen Canadian Idol judges spar at MindBall. You’ve read about light-sabers coming to life using the mind alone. In fact our latest product Mind WorkStation is even capable brain-gaming by controlling on-screen visualizations. For example, one game involves starting a fire with nothing but brainwaves!

But, what this area has lacked thus far is a brain-computer interface that avoids the messy paste and exhaustive setup that most EEG units require. We need something that can just be slipped on and off. The device that looks like it will spearhead this new movement is the EPOC Neuroheadset from Emotiv.

Mind Hacks has a great write-up about the Emotiv technology here: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/03/playing_mind_games_.html

He brings up some good points about EEG gaming. Gamers expecting this headset to instantly transform them into Jedi masters will likely be disappointed. EEGs are measuring very minute electrical signals that have to first pass through the skull, and other biofeedback technologies have delay issues that will render them useless for the fast pace of most games.

These issues have caused some problems already, as shown in a recent Emotiv demo in San Francisco, where they had to resort to using a handheld controller in order to complete the game. 

You can get an idea of the problems involved by looking at some demos uploaded to YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDpmSiMiscA&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59hgJlQ0tJI

Here is a better demo, but still illustrates how hard it is to use an EEG as a complex game controller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxMux4uEkLI

Despite these problems, I do think mind gaming could be very successful if it is used in a way appropriate to the limitations of the technology. For example, it could easily be used to enhance the powers or abilities of certain characters in the game. In a Harry Potter game, the magic wand could be more powerful if the gamer produces a specific brainwave pattern. In a sports game, the team could run faster and score more if the gamer is in the “zone.” These types of uses, although less sexy than “moving things with your mind”, would actually be a much more realistic use of the technology.

Using neurofeedback-like technology for recreational gaming does bring up some concerns. Suppose, for example, a popular feature of a game – such as using objects or weapons – is triggered or enhanced by the production of theta waves. Given the addictive nature of games, I could easily see avid gamers developing “brain fog” or other problems associated with excess slow-wave activity.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this technology is released to an unsupervised mass market. Perhaps the algorithms used, and the way the games are structured, will help mitigate any problems that could occur. I admit that the geek in me wants to get one of these things immediately.

The Mind WorkStation release

A couple months ago I was browsing through some old posts on the forum and I found one from September of 2006 where I talked about an application that was going to be in beta testing in “a couple months”. How’s that for an off estimate?

After two years of research and development, Mind WorkStation was finally released on Monday. We celebrated with a pizza party.

A huge amount of work went into this. This is the seventh software product we’ve released, and by far the most ambitious and complex. All through the development, release and support of the other products I’ve been taking notes about what users want to be able to do, what research needs to be done and what problems are encountered. So, in this application we had a very large to-do list. And all throughout development we were working very closely with other researchers, developers, AVS manufacturers, EEG and biofeedback vendors.

Dr. Huang’s new research played a big part in constructing the sessions that come with it. For example, we have been able to separate sessions into verbal vs non-verbal skills improvement. A session for memory has been developed, based on some very promising studies. There are also more fascinating sessions included, such as a migraine session using alternating-eye photic stimulation at 30 Hz, or a muscle contraction headache session randomly stimulating 1-3 Hz. Another even more successful migraine session uses frequencies chosen by the user based on comfort, instead of using a set protocol!

The idea of self-chosen frequencies is very interesting, especially when dealing with a large frequency range and people who have no experience with brainwave entrainment. Some choose gamma, others choose theta, others choose delta, and so on. Yet, at least with migraines, all appeared to benefit the user tremendously.

Michael Hutchison wrote that people have a subjective feeling of “connectedness” to a frequency when they are being entrained to it successfully. Perhaps this subjective feeling has a part to play in the success of self-chosen frequencies. I’ve written many times about how different everyone’s response is to brainwave entrainment. One person may respond very well to 8 Hz but not to 10. Or to 5 Hz but not to 7. EEG research has yielded some intriguing insights into why this is.

Brainwave entrainment occurs best at one’s natural dominant frequencies. In fact, the more dominant the frequency is (the higher the amplitude), the narrower the range a person can entrain to. Someone with a very high dominant 10 Hz frequency, may not be able to entrain at all to 7 Hz.

This is where EEG-Driven stimulation becomes very useful. It is a simple thing to discover a person’s dominant frequency in any frequency band, and that data can then be transferred in real-time to Mind WorkStation to be converted into audio/visual stimuli. We worked with the fine people at Thought Technology to develop a number of EEG protocols that do this. I also developed similar protocols in BioExplorer as well, so our EEG customers can do the same. The EEG-driven sessions I’ve tried so far have been nothing short of amazing.

The response to Mind WorkStation so far has been very positive. It is already being put to use developing sessions for clinics, nursing homes, ADD kids and more. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with it. We purposefully designed it to be as flexible as possible, so I fully expect to see it used in ways I could never have imagined. In the end, that’s the point; to make research and development in this industry easy.

Before I get back to regular blogging, I thought I would use this space to share some cool Mind WorkStation features.

Waveform Ramping

In Mind WorkStation waveforms can be “morphed” into each other over time. For example, you could start with an isochronic beat, and slowly morph it into a sine wave:

Here is an animation showing what happens to the sound over time:

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3D Audio Positioning

This allows you to position audio in 3D space. Take a listen to the results with a relaxation script read by Max, along with some other relaxing sounds. Listen with headphones if possible.

 3D sound sample.mp3

Ambience Generator

The ambience feature randomly generates sound, reducing habituation by creating a different experience every time.

Random ThunderStorm.mp3

Random Forest.mp3

Those are three neat features I like to show off, but there is a lot more to the program. Biofeedback integration, playlists, entrainment-safe audio effects, filtering methods, new stimulation techniques, and so on. Visit the below links if you’re interested in learning more:

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/overview.php

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/features.php

Better yet, download it and try it out for yourself! http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/download.php

Regular posting will resume soon. A lot has happened in the entrainment and neuroscience world in the past few months, I just haven’t had time to write about it. :)