The First Mind-Controlled VR Game Will Hit Arcades in 2018
“Wake up, this is not a test,” intones a voice as the virtual reality game Awakening begins. Your game character is a child trapped in a nefarious government lab, and as you scan the room you see a variety of objects lying on the floor, each flashing with light. You focus your mental attention on a block, and it rises up and rotates in the air before you. Then you focus on a mirror on the wall, and the block hurtles toward it and smashes the glass, revealing a scrawled sequence of numbers beneath. You notice a keypad by the door with numbers that are also subtly flashing. Using only your Jedi powers, you focus on certain digits in the correct sequence to open the door.
The technology that makes this game possible is a brain-scanning headband that attaches to a VR headset. That headband, paired with software that interprets the neural signals, enables wearers to play games without using any sort of hand controller. The creators of this brain-computer interface system, at the Boston-based startup Neurable, believe this intuitive controller will be the next big thing in VR. “We’ve essentially created a brain mouse,” says Ramses Alcaide, Neurable’s cofounder and CEO.
Awakening is the world’s first brain-controlled VR game. And curious gamers will get a chance to play it later in 2018 when Neurable’s game will arrive in VR arcades around the world.
The headband incorporates seven bulky electrodes that record EEG (electroencephalography) signals, a standard method of monitoring the electrical activity of broad swaths of brain cells. To detect the user’s intention, Neurable’s system makes clever use of a type of brain signal called an event-related potential. As you focus on a toy block that’s pulsing with light, for example, your brain subconsciously registers its particular pattern of flashes, and certain neurons “fire” in response. Neurable’s software processes the noisy EEG data, finds the signal therein, and translates it into a game command: Use the block.
Neurable chose to use flashing objects and the associated neural signals because its EEG system’s scalp electrodes can reliably pick up those brain patterns. Neuroscientists haven’t yet figured out how to detect signals that would allow for more direct control (such as a signal that means “move the block to the left”) without resorting to surgically implanted electrodes.
Neurable’s Alcaide says he isn’t worried, because he sees VR games as just the first application of his company’s technology. To make the system more versatile, Alcaide says its hardware will evolve to become less obtrusive: He envisions first a headband with only one or two small EEG electrodes, and eventually an EEG sensor that fits snugly into an earbud.
Mind controlled VR game
Those discrete sensors could then be used with augmented reality (AR) glasses, which layer virtual reality on a view of the real world. If such glasses catch on for commercial or consumer use, Neurable’s technology would enable interaction without using a smartphone, gesturing, or issuing voice instructions. Instead, users would just focus their attention on a menu command, a “record” button, or whatever else they wanted to click on. “EEG offers a screen-free solution that’s private,” Alcaide says. “You won’t have to wave your arms around or talk out loud on the bus.”