Video game developers constantly strive to make their games more realistic, both in terms of visuals and (perhaps most importantly) game-player interaction. Players want to be able to do more in their virtual worlds. While in the past this has led to more complicated joystick controllers that look like they’d take a week to master, the tide is turning. Developers are responding to the desire for a more intuitive interface to match the lifelike alternate reality. The Nintendo Wii, for instance, revolutionized the gaming industry with simple-looking joysticks that interpret movement. But now, the Emotiv EPOC is taking the next radical step.
Far from the complicated controllers of other systems, the controller the Emotiv EPOC uses is one you’ve been familiar with all your life. No, we’re not referring to your beloved Atari Pong paddles — we’re talking about your brain. The EPOC uses a headset that actually picks up on your brain waves. These brain waves can tell the system what you want to do in your virtual reality. In other words, you think “lift,” and a virtual rock actually levitates on the screen.
For every Star Wars fan who’s ever fantasized about having the Force of Jedi Knighthood, this is a sort of dream come true. Now, mere thoughts can translate into actions (albeit virtual actions). This might sound too space-age and incredible to be true, but the basic technology behind the Emotiv EPOC is decades old.
But before we delve into how the EPOC itself works, we’ll take a look at your brain. First, we’ll peer into the brain to see exactly what brain waves are and how machines are able to read and interpret them accurately. Then, we’ll see how Emotiv has adapted the technology for the gaming world. And finally, we’ll talk about the implications and applications of thought-controlled technology.
EEG Technology and EPOC
If you’ve read How Your Brain Works or have ever taken a psychology class, you probably know that your brain is home to billions of neurons, which are nerve cells. Using electrical impulses, they send messages to and through each other. Whenever your brain is working (and that means always, even during sleep), all these messages firing from neuron to neuron amount to an electrical current.
Although the brain continues to be an enigmatic subject of study, scientists have known about brain waves, which are a map of the electrical current firing from neuron to neuron, for a while. British physician Richard Caton first noticed the brain’s current in 1875. By 1924, German neurologist Hans Berger found a way to read the current by developing what’s known as an electroencephalograph. This kind of machine produces a graph measurement of brain waves, known as an electroencephalogram (EEG).
The system involves hooking up several pairs of electrodes on a patient’s head. These electrodes are disks that conduct electrical activity, capture it from the brain and convey it out through a wire to a machine that amplifies the signal. Scientists attach electrodes in pairs on the head because they’re measuring the difference in voltage between the pair. Soon after starting his research, Berger noticed that the electrical activity of brain waves correlated to a person’s state of mind.
As we mentioned, your brain fires out this electrical current even when you’re sleeping. Your brain waves are usually slowest during sleep. However, slow is relative. In deep sleep, the brain transmits delta waves, which fire one to four times per second. In light sleep, theta waves fire about four to seven times per second. Alpha waves, which we emit when we’re in a relaxed, conscious state, come next at about seven to 13 pulses per second. Lastly, beta waves, which reflect a very excited or stressed mind, fire fastest at 13 to 40 times per second. Your brain doesn’t emit just one kind of wave at one time; rather, it emits multiple kinds of waves simultaneously. Nevertheless, one kind of wave can dominate in a given moment.
Today, doctors are able to use EEG tests for a variety of applications, such as diagnosing epilepsy as well as other seizure disorders. The test is appropriate for diagnosing epilepsy because the everyday brain wave patterns of patients with epilepsy tend to be abnormal. EEG tests can also reveal sleep disorders, tumors and the effects of a head injury or determine whether a coma patient has become brain dead.
For more Detail: How the Emotiv EPOC Works