GDC Wednesday: Neurosky's EEG controller.

On Wednesday I had the privilege to be a guest at the Neurosky booth on the GDC expo floor. Neurosky is a hardware company that is preparing to release a single dry sensor EEG (electroencephalograph) peripheral called the Mindwave. The Mindwave will be sold for around 99 dollars, and the sensor touches the middle of the forehead and grounds on the ear.

My first test of the Mindwave involved a game of real world golf. I was presented with a putter and portable green then asked to put a golf visor version of the device on my head and ground it to my ear. After a few seconds a display on a nearby TV came to life with readouts of my attention and meditation.

So what exactly are attention and meditation? The exact algorithms were not reported to me (they are proprietary), but the brief explanation was attention involves features of the beta (and other) waves in my brain, and was a measure of my focus. Meanwhile, meditation was a measure of my calm/relaxation and was a measure some alpha (and other) waves.

So the operational and conceptual definitions of attention and meditation were not exactly clear. At that point I was asked to take a couple of test putts to establish a baseline for myself. I did so as “The Doctor” watched my readouts. After taking a couple putts he told me to take my time and concentrate. I did this and my next put narrowly missed the hole. The Doctor next turned the ball number facing up and asked me to focus on the number and take deep breaths. Once I was ready I should putt. I did and lo and behold, the ball went in the hole. I was a little unclear about the quantitative report of my success on the readout, and as I asked I was told that I should have hit the ball as the attention and meditation lines got close to one another. OK, still a little vague. At another station a third-party program called the Puzzle Box displayed the EEG output of gamers as they played Call of Duty. Once again levels of attention and meditation were reported.

Besides the quantitative readouts of your meditation and attention Mindwave also allows you to control movies and games with your mind.

So, with EEG technology coming to a controller near you what can you expect?

The quantitative feedback of mental states seems interesting. I don’t regularly use EEG so my understanding of how effective a single sensor can be at detecting brain activity should be take with a grain of salt. That said, I think for the price of 99 dollars it is worth someone checking this device out. Even if it can only lead to affirmations and correlations with other measures it seems like something that is this noninvasive and cheap would be worth a look. Neurosky also informed me that they have some partnerships with academic institutions and offer an 8 sensor dry EEG for them. Not sure the price here.

For those that are more interested in reading more academic insights into the headset here are some white and academic papers. If anyone does read them and has comments please feel free to post them here.

When it came to the use of the device as a controller I was not that impressed. With the current attention and meditation measurements the device really only has 4 directions and these are very rough. Imagine if you were trying to use a four directional controller that ½ the time you press it doesn’t do anything. I played a game on the Ipad and without even trying to concentrate or relax passed every test. To me it seemed like the game wasn’t even reacting to me.

Final Thoughts

I appreciated Neurosky taking the time to meet with me. The $99 dollar EEG seems like it would be worth a look. It would be interesting to see what it can really measure. As a controller I can’t imagine ever using the Neurosky, the signal seems too noisy and limited. Potentially the device could provide feedback to the game interface about the mental state of the player, something Mike Ambinder of valve discussed in his GDC talk on Thursday, but without an accurate understanding of the concepts and operationalizations of meditation and attention it is hard to say for certain.

GDC Wednesday: Neurosky's EEG controller. by Travis Ross, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

One Response to “GDC Wednesday: Neurosky's EEG controller.”

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