February 20, 2008

Thought-Controlled Gaming Headset Coming Soon

A new neuro-headset that reads the electrical impulses of brain neurons will be brought to market later this year.   The new device will allow gamers virtual interaction via thoughts and emotions.

"It picks up electrical activity from the brain and sends wireless signals to a computer,"  Tan Le, president of Emotiv, told BBC News.

"It allows the user to manipulate a game or virtual environment naturally and intuitively," she said.

The company said the headset, called the Epoc, is capable of detecting over 30 unique expressions, emotions and actions.  At a price of $299, the headset comes with a movement-detecting gyroscope and wireless capabilities to communicate with a computer.

The average brain is made up of over 100 billion neurons that send electrical impulse when interacting. The technology behind the Epoc is called non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG), allows  these neural impulses brain's to be interpreted by the headset.

"Emotiv is a neuro-engineering company and we've created a brain computer interface that reads electrical impulses in the brain and translates them into commands that a video game can accept and control the game dynamically," Ms. Le explained.

Although headsets that interpret neural activity are not new, Ms. Le said the Epoc was the first consumer device that can be used for gaming applications.

"This is the first headset that doesn't require a large net of electrodes, or a technician to calibrate or operate it and does require gel on the scalp," she explained. "It also doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars."

The medical use of Electroencephalography dates back to the early 20th century, but it's only been within the last thirty years  the technology has been used to explore interfaces between the human brain and a computer.

The headset can interpret a wide variety of emotions, such as excitement, tension, meditation, and frustration.  Facial expressions such as smiles, laughs, winks, raised eyebrows as seen in shock, furrowed brows in anger along with cognitive actions such as push, pull, lift, drop and rotate (on six different axis) are also interpreted by the Epoc.

For gaming applications, the Epoc can be used to give authentic facial expressions to game avatars.   For example, if a gamer smiles, the headset will translate that expression to the avatar seen in the game.   

"If you laughed or felt happy after killing a character in a game then your virtual buddy could admonish you for being callous," she explained.

The headset also interprets players' emotions and translates them to the virtual world applications. "The headset could be used to improve the realism of emotional responses of AI characters in games," said Ms. Le.  For example, gamers will be able to move objects in the virtual world merely by thinking of the action.

Emotiv is working with IBM to develop the technology for additional applications in "strategic enterprise business markets and virtual worlds," according to a BBC News report.

Paul Ledak, IBM's Vice President of Digital Convergence, told BBC that brain computer interfaces like the Epoc headset are an important component of the future 3D Internet and the future of virtual communication.


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