The Emotiv Headset – Gaming With Thoughts Alone

Mind control is coming to a home near you. Well, it’s not going to let you lull your neighbors into a trance, but it will let you control a computer with only a thought. Or so they claim. Emotiv Systems says that they have a headset called the Epoc that allows the user to play video games with only their brainwaves. Sure, it’s pretty sweet, but is it good enough to satisfy the ravenous, trash-talking gamers out there?

Thus far, Emotiv (previously covered by the Hub here) has been pretty hush with exactly how this thing works. They say that the headset reads brainwaves and can sense emotions as well as body movements. A built in gyroscope also allows the computer to track head movements, allowing an onscreen camera to follow suit. Software ships with the unit that runs constantly, making compatible all software that was not initially designed to play by brain. Also included in the purchase price is a specially designed game intended to showcase the brain-harnessing power of the headset. The pièce de résistance of the game, or at least all they ever show in press releases, is the ability to levitate a stone by raising an arm and concentrating really hard. Take a look at the video to check it out:

So, what’s the verdict? Is this hot-tech toy worth 300 hard-earned dollars, the same price that would bring home a self-scooping litterbox? Well, the price does seem only a pittance for something that taps into the brain and the 12 hour battery life that it boasts means that you’ll run out of juice before the headset does. But there are still some unanswered questions that would make or break the deal. Most importantly, there was not much information about the basic controls of the character. Certainly, raising an arm to lift a stone or growling to scare away spirits is kind of intuitive (just don’t let anybody see while you play or risk embarrassment) but how does the player control the character in forward and back motion?

The fact that this is not the first question answered raises a few red flags. Other systems similar to the Epoc, like the ones designed by NeuroSky and Cyberlink, require a facial movement to initiate movement and it is a fair assumption to think that the Emotiv system is no different. It seems like it would be a pain, having to continuously tense a facial muscle or lean forward to initiate motion. To back up these groundless claims, take the people at Cuitech Inc. as an example. They hooked up a wheelchair to the Emotiv Epoc and programmed it to move forward with a smile and turn with blinks. In the video, seen below, the chair motions seem sluggish and the control of the unit seems comparable to that of a Dodge Caliber (it’s just that bad). Still, flop or not, the fact that this type of leisurely technology exists shows how far this research has come and how close it is to being implemented throughout society on a large scale.

So is this going to be the next big hit for gamers or will it go the way of the Segway? It would have to be personally tested in order to get a full appreciation for what it is like to use but it seems as though smiles, frowns and blinks are replacing the old W, A, S and D keys. With the Epoc, it is likely that the average World of Warcraft player would be having facial spasms by the time he or she got to the intended destination. Sure, the Emotiv Epoc is cool and cutting edge, but it seems better suited for helping the handicapped than pwning n00bz.

Andrew Kessel
Andrew Kessel
Andrew is a recent graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, MA with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. While at Northeastern, he worked on a Department of Defense project intended to create a product that adsorbs and destroys toxic nerve agents and also worked as part of a consulting firm in the fields of battery technology, corrosion analysis, vehicle rollover analysis, and thermal phenomena. Andrew is currently enrolled in a Juris Doctorate program at Boston College School of Law.
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