Monday, November 24, 2008

Mind reading headsets

So far, the mind reading headset market aimed at the regular consumer is quite small... I've come across the well advertised Emotiv headset, to be released early next year, and OCZ's "Neural Impulse Activator", shown right.

Unlike the Emotiv headset, with 16 different sensors placed on different parts of the head, this unit only has 3, all placed across the forehead, inevitably giving slightly less function.

In the first several hours of playing with the device, I managed to work out what successful calibration "looked like": - when the muscle signal graph didn't vary away from the "desired baseline". Sometimes this was very easy to achieve, and other times, just didn't happen. I discovered it worked better on one side of the lounge at home, than on the other. I also concluded that wetting the 3 sensors with water helped to a degree. Unfortunately the device needs to be calibrated every time it is used, which makes demonstrations rather hit-and-miss.

My first successful experience came shortly after calibrating the device. I was able to play the game of pong, using my eyebrows. By wiggling them fractionally upwards, the bat went up, and wiggling them downwards, the bat went down. And whilst I didn't ever manage to win a whole game, I did hit the ball enough times to win a few points, so it was not all chance.

My other successful experience was linking the muscle movements to keypresses, so I could use my eyebrows to navigate around Google maps. An eyebrow up-wiggle mapped to Page Up, and sent the map flying in one direction, a down-wiggle mapped to Page Down, and sent it flying in the other. Unfortunately zooming in and out was a bit beyond me, as the '+' key was unmappable.

So how is this mind-reading? Well, unfortunately it isn't yet. Unlike the Emotiv device, it seems impossible to "train" the device to recognise when you are thinking of stroking a cat for example. As found in this review, it should be able to detect general mood - OCZ's VP Dr. Schuette, says he can think of an expletive to make his Alpha 2 increase enough to trigger a "jump" action in his computer game. However I suspect this takes many hours of practice!

So for now, I shall continue playing pong with my keyboard, and wait for a few weeks when I hope to be able to get my hands on the Emotiv headset.