Industry puts its mind to video games

05/24/2013 12:00 AM

05/23/2013 8:22 PM

Fly toy helicopters with your mind. Be a DJ and shift musical tracks based on how you feel. Wiggle robotic cat ears by increasing your state of calm.

Astonishing advances in the ability to harness brain waves have made the fantastic notion of moving and controlling objects with the mind possible. Now neuroscientists are grappling with another challenge: Find a “killer app” that will demonstrate the true potential of tapping into brain waves and ignite the neurotechnology revolution.

Medicine, perhaps? Education? Try video games.

In the past decade, video games have helped push cutting-edge technologies such as sensor-based computing — Nintendo’s Wii — and gesture-based computing — Microsoft’s Kinect — into the mainstream. Neurotech boosters hope video games can do the same for their budding industry.

In a sign of how serious they are about courting the video gaming industry, the two camps staged the NeuroGaming Conference & Expo earlier this month in San Francisco, the first event of its kind, according to organizers.

“Now is the time to bring these communities together,” said Zack Lynch, the conference organizer and founder of the Neurotech Industry Organization. “We want to start the conversation to see where we could actually take these technologies and to begin to create new experiences that really push the boundaries of reality.”

The event drew 300 people, including entrepreneurs, neuroscientists and venture capitalists, anyone organizers believe could help spark the ideas that could create a full-blown neurotech industry.

The ability to read brain waves has been around at least since the 1920s through a technique for capturing the brain’s electrical impulses called electroencephalography, or EEG, by attaching sensors to the head. Now, brain waves can be read by small sensors that continue to become more powerful and less expensive.

At the same time, sensors of various kinds are being built into all sorts of gadgets such as smartphones and health monitoring wristbands such as those made by Jawbone. Observers say this is making people more comfortable with the idea of wearing technology that includes sensors that collect tremendous amounts of the most intimate data.

“I think it’s a really exciting time right now,” said Anders Grunnet-Jepsen, director of advanced technology and perceptual computing at Intel Corp. “I think the public is ready for exploring other types of sensors.”

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