Brain Reading Technology No Longer Science Fiction

Emotiv EPOCIn the world of new technology, not much can rival a device that would read the human mind. Soon available to the public is such a device, Emotiv’s EPOC. While it currently targets video gaming, it might one day become an indispensable tool in other areas as well.

The device, a streamlined electroencephalographic (EEG) headset made up of 14 sensors, tunes into electric signals naturally produced by the brain. These signals are then interpreted as one of 30 programmed emotions, after the company carefully narrowed and mapped them out. Read More...

But deciphering these signals was no small task. In order to interpret them, the work of both neuroscientists and computer engineers specializing in machine learning and pattern recognition was needed.

Over the last four years, Emotiv recorded thousands of EEG on hundreds of volunteers. Not all gamers, their brain activity was monitored as they experienced virtual scenarios that evoked various emotions, facial expressions and cognitive reactions. About two years ago, the company set out to build algorithms to interpret the apparently chaotic impulses in the cerebral cortex and relate them to common emotions expressed by volunteers.

"Through a large enough sample size," said Emotiv president Tan Le, to Scientific American, "we were able to get some consistency around the population to attain a high degree of confidence that it accurately measures an emotional state."

The result: Emotiv’s EPOC can detect a player’s thoughts, feelings and expression, and connects wirelessly with all game platforms from consoles to PCs. Software development kits are available for game designers who would like to introduce this innovative new technology in their next generation games.

The device can currently be reserved (by US residents only) for purchase in the near future, at a cost of $299 USD. Emotiv is also sending a call out for beta testers of the neuro-headset in San Fransisco, California beginning next month.

While the company does play up the surprising functionality of the EPOC headset, a live demonstration at this year’s Game Developers' Conference told a different story.

“The demo started off smoothly enough, as the headset wearer made a giant animated head on the screen mimic his real-life facial expressions,” wrote Tim Moynihan, of PC World. “But things went awry when the wearer was asked to make an on-screen object disappear, and again when the handlers from Emotiv tried to put EPOC through its paces in an actual game. The device didn't do much of anything.”

Later on, relates Moynihan, Emotiv CEO Nam Do explained that the 2.4-GHz wireless audio visual system at the show interfered with the headset, while it had performed nicely at Emotiv's booth. While this may be an acceptable excuse in this context, it may lead early adopters to reconsider the purchase if their home is riddled with wireless equipment.

To view a live (and overall successful) demo of Emotiv EPOC, see this Scientific American video.

Based in San Francisco and Sydney, Australia, Emotiv is also actively working with IBM to develop new applications for their technology for over a year. IBM believes that the EEG technology can be an important part of a broad range of virtual reality uses for industry, not just for games. Dave Kamalsky, project manager for virtual worlds research at IBM explains on Vroot.com, that about 5,000 people have already used a variety of VR (virtual reality) systems for company meetings. IBM is trying to raise awareness with businesses that some VR systems might be more appropriate for certain business users than others.

"As interactions in virtual environments become more complex, mice and keyboards alone may soon be inadequate," said IBM vice-president of digital convergence division Paul Ledak. "BCI (brain-computer interfacing) is an important component of the 3D internet and the future of virtual communication," he added in an interview with Australian media.