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A new EEG headset control for game consoles Print E-mail
Mar 10, 2008 at 11:18 AM

Mind-Reading Game Headset to Hit Market

Eric Bland, Discovery News

March 7, 2008 -- Imagine controlling a video game by thought alone. Two weeks ago at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Emotiv Systems showcased a new device, the Epoc, designed to help you do just that.

While Emotiv's futuristic, dueling-octopus looking headset will initially be developed for video games, it could eventually be used in medicine, virtual reality, robotics, education and many other areas.

The technology is based on electroencephalography, more commonly known as EEG. EEG has been around for over 100 years and is currently used to study sleep patterns and epilepsy by analyzing electrical activity in the brain. Until recently, though, EEG readings were regarded as too broad for most applications.

The breakthrough, notes Emotiv Systems' President Tan Le, is in the software algorithm that decodes a person's thoughts by analyzing the electrical impulses in the brain.

Many brain signals originate deep inside the brain and radiate outward. By time the signal reaches the outside of the brain, or cerebral cortex, the brain can appear to be firing randomly.

According to Le, Emotiv's software algorithm "unfolds the cortex and takes us closer to the source of the signal."

"We can calibrate the algorithm across a wide range of technologies with the same resolution you would get from placing an invasive chip inside the head," said Le. The system takes as little as six seconds to calibrate itself to a user.

The device and a game bundled with it will cost $299 and will be available this Christmas. While some games will be specifically designed for the headset, Le notes that it could be used in any computer game.

Reviews of the headset have generally been positive, but some people have found it harder to use than others. You can view videos of people using the Epoc here and here.

One man who has already tried it is IBM's Mike Rowe, an expert on 3-D virtual environments. Emotiv Systems has already formed a partnership with IBM and is working with other companies specializing in robotics, education, medical devices, and consumer product testing.

"It's one of those things you have to do to believe it actually works," said Rowe.

Rowe said the company plans to first use the system with people who have limited mobility but expects the headset, which translates facial expressions, moods and actions like moving and lifting onto virtual characters, will become a standard feature in virtual 3-D environments such as Second Life.

"Back in 1994 and 1995 many companies started seeing the use of a 2-D Internet," said Rowe. "You had all these different parts to it, but it only became usable once we got to a common Web browser."

Scott Makeig, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California-San Diego, echoed Rowe in seeing Epoc as a tool for people with limited physical function. Such a headset could give paralyzed people could have a degree of freedom and independence by letting them do simple things like turning on the TV and switching stations.

"There has been a resurgence of EEG research," said Makeig. "This will be the future."



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