Archive for 'Neuro-Games / Brain Games'

Mattel gets into the EEG business

A new brain gaming toy is coming out later this year, in the same vein as the Emotiv Headset and MindBall. This one is from an established toy company, Mattel. 

Yes, Mattel. From the people who brought you Hot Wheels, you will soon be able to purchase an EEG and accompanying game set.

Check out the video demonstration:


Read more about it here.

The sensors measure theta-wave activity in your brain; the waves are directly related to your level of focus and concentration. The sensors register the theta-wave activity, translate that activity into a signal, and transmit it as a radio frequency to the Mind Flex.

The more theta-wave activity there is, the faster the little fan in the unit will spin. The speed the fan spins at, and therefore moves the ball, is based on how hard you concentrate. The faster the fan spins, the higher the ball goes along the Z axis. Turn a dial and move the ball along the X and Y axis.

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:

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:

Here is a better demo, but still illustrates how hard it is to use an EEG as a complex game controller:

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.

Brain Video: EEG used to control virtual avatars in Second Life

In this video, an EEG device is being used to control the movement of an online avatar, or digital “you”, bringing us a tiny bit closer to a truly virtualized world (e.g. The Matrix).


Weekly Brain Video: Mind Ball Tournament

Here are 2 videos of an EEG-based game that looks fun and interesting, called MindBall. The idea is that you either relax or concentrate, speeding up or slowing down your brainwaves, causing a ball to move closer to your “goal”.

For our Canadian readers, the first video pits 2 Canadian Idol judges against each other.


This video is of an actual Mind Ball tournament:


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: 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?


Thoughts on the emerging “Brain Fitness” movement and Brainwave Entrainment for seniors

There is a rapidly growing interest in brain fitness today. The aging baby boomer generation is feeling the effects of time, and many are perhaps interested in repairing the damage made by overindulgence in the 60’s. 😉 Research over the past few decades has indicated strong links between an active brain and defense against age-related mental deterioration, including the ability to stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The industry is seeing a boom of new companies, and a lot of related research appears to be in the works. A new study from the University of California-Irvine analyzed the ability of regular mental workouts to delay the progress of Alzheimer’s in hundreds of mice (I know what you’re thinking: how do you give a rat a mental workout?! – I was hoping it would be something innovative, but apparently they just used the traditional rat maze). Another study funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), analyzed the effect of a mere 10 sessions of cognitive skills training on the elderly, showing significant increases in the ability to succeed in daily tasks such as driving and managing finances. The cognitive improvements held for nearly a year, after only 10 initial sessions! Very promising.

Because of this large emerging market for cognitive improvements, we’re seeing a lot of new faces pop up in the industry. Sharp BrainsRocky Mountain Learning, Posit Science and Vigorous Mind all offer affordable software for brain exercise. Happy Neuron and My Brain Trainer offer online-based “mind gyms” and brain fitness advice. There are probably many more I’m not aware of yet. Many are boasting studies with very promising results, such as a study on Happy Neuron that showed an increase in brain activity confirmed by PET scans. Many of these companies also have Neuroscientists in advisory positions, or on staff like we do.

These programs use puzzles, games and brain teasers to focus the mind on tasks involving memory, attention or complex use of language. Some also integrate nutritional advice and even regular meditation into the regimen, such as the Happy Neuron mentioned above.

The interest in brain fitness is not just on the fringe, or relegated to concerned baby boomers. Some large, established companies are investing in this, and marketing to all ages. Notably, Nintendo recently released a game called “Brain Age”, meant to exercise and sharpen the mind in a fun, entertaining way. You can find this title today in nearly every gaming store.

Of course I am hoping that all this interest in puzzles and games is going to carry over to Neurofeedback and Brainwave Entrainment (BWE), which have also shown great promise with age-related mental problems, as much as they have with ADD. In 1998 Thomas Budzynski, Ph.D. used both Neurofeedback and BWE to vastly improve the cognitive function of a 75 year old man. In 2001, Budzynski and Tang successfully treated 31 seniors by randomly stimulating frequencies ranging from 9-22 hz over about 33 sessions. In a 2004 study by Berg and Siever, 18 hz was stimulated in the left hemisphere and 10 hz in the right, resulting in significant improvements in geriatric depression and balance. Our own Dr. Huang has a great interest in cognitive decline and aging, having focused much of her early neuroscience work on related subjects. You can find a session designed for seniors in our Neuro-Programmer product.

Baby boomers are not just seeking out mental exercise either. American Sports Data reports that Gym memberships for people over 55 have seen a surge of 33%, while memberships among the younger crowd has seen nearly no growth over the same time period. Yoga and Tai Chi have grown 118%, cycling by 66%, elliptical training by 306% – the list goes on and on. The importance of exercise to mental health should not be underestimated. In fact there is some controversy over whether “brain fitness” games offer more mental benefits than a regular physical fitness routine, although there seems to be very little argument that combining both physical and mental fitness into any lifestyle will result in dramatic enhancement of the brain’s capabilities.

Speaking of games and exercise, as the “Nintendo generation” loses its high metabolism, many companies are working to combine gaming with physical exercise as well. I will admit that I own a Game Bike and couldn’t live without it. I have heard that a game-based tread mill is also in the works.

If you’re interested, here is a free online guide to maintaining brain fitness:


EEG signals controlling robots, musical instruments, performance art and ancient archade games!

Believe it or not, brainwaves are not only used for medical diagnosis and therapy. For decades EEG activity has been investigated as a non-invasive way to control external devices using “thought power” alone.

This could become an extremely useful technology for disabled persons, but could also be a way to improve productivity in many work environments, or could give users finer control over complex equipment. For example, the U.S. government is currently exploring ways EEG could be used to give personnel “hands off” control over vehicles and planes. A few months ago I saw a bit on the news about a guy who connected the steering on his boat to an EEG, so he could use his own thought to steer the ship around a harbor.

Popular EEG software today has many interesting capabilities built in. You can use your mind as a remote control for DVDs, to control games or create music.

But could the brain’s activity alone replace the steady hands of a painter? Could the brain alone replicate the complex melodies of professional musicians?


Brainwaves as a musical instrument

The use of brain waves to control tones and MIDI instruments has been the subject of research for some time. During the WinterBrain conference I heard the distinct atonal, random-sounding notes coming out an EEG-controlled synthesizer. Coming from a musical family myself, I wouldn’t call what comes out of most of these devices music. But improvements in the algorithms used could revolutionize the process. Here is a recent video that will show you what I mean:



Brainwaves as a paintbrush

Brainwave Performance Art!The definition of art is an interesting debate to follow, and has changed a lot in modern centuries, with Marcel DuChamp famously submitting an unaltered urinal to a museum as his showpiece in 1917.

As time moves on, we will see advances in technology creating many new and exciting art forms and genres. Some might call EEG a pure form of expression unequaled by other mediums, where you are truly peering into the soul of the artist.

So far visual representation of EEG signals has been largely limited to wave-like images of varying colors, used mainly for therapy and analysis. But newcomers to the field are taking this to an entirely new level. I saw some interesting video coming out of a booth at WinterBrain, not unlike the visualizations used in Mind Stereo and other media players.

Here are some videos of the innovative, EEG-powered “Mind VJ”:

Excerpt from the site:

The role of the VJ is to create a visual performance in real time, inspired by the rhythm and flow of the DJ’s music performance.

In MIND VJ, the idea is to use the rhythm of our own brain waves as the conducting element for the performance. In this manner, we can tap into a normally “hidden” area of our body (brain function and its electrical activity) and make it “visible” in the form of projected images. In this case, the images projected won’t be wave graphs, like the ones usually plotted by medical EEG machines, but artistic images, undergoing real-time changes and manipulations controlled by the current brain wave output of the subject (the MIND VJ)


Brainwaves as a game controller

Space Invaders - remember this?There was a lot of buzz at the end of 2006 about the new gaming controller released by Nintendo. Because it requires more movement than the typical gamepad or joystick, chiropractors and fitness gurus around the world hailed the new controller as a healthy advancement likely to make our society a tad bit less sedentary.

Perhaps in 5 or 10 years the latest and greatest game controller will be a headband that picks up on brain signals, and neurologists around the world will praise it for its capacity for brain exercise.

Here is a recent article on a teenager who learned to control the game Space Invaders with an EEG signal:

Here is another game that has been making some news lately, called MindBall:

You can try EEG games for yourself using the EEG units we offer, and an available game package such as “InnerTube” available here.


Brainwaves for controlling robots??

I admit I’m having trouble thinking of ways this could be useful to society, but it sure is cool!