Friday, March 7, 2008

Technology: Consumer-grade EEG devices

Not exactly eye tracking but interesting as a combined modality are the upcoming consumer grade Electroencephalography (EEG) devices sometimes referred to as "brain-mouse". The devices are capable of detecting brain activity by electrodes placed on the scalp.

The company OCZ Technology, mainly known for it's computer components such a memory and power supplies, have announced the "Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA)". While this technology itself is nothing new the novelty lies in the accessibility of the device, priced somewhere around $200-250 when introduced next week.

Check out the quick mini-demo by the guys at Anandtech from the Cebit exhibition in Hannover, 2008
This technical presentation (in German) goes into a bit more detail.

From the press release:
"Recently entering mass production, the final edition of the Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) will be on display for users to try out the new and electrifying way of playing PC games. The final version of the NIA uses a sleek, metal housing, a USB 2.0 interface, a streamlined headband with carbon interface sensors, and user-friendly software. The NIA is the first commercially available product of its kind, and gamers around the world now have access to this forward-thinking technology that’s had the industry buzzing since its inception."

These devices do have the potential for taking the whole hands-free computing to the next level. They could be a feasible candidate for solving the midas touch problem by proving a device that enables the user to perform activations by subtle facial gestures etc. I have yet to discover how sensitive this device is and what the latency is. Additionally, does it come with an API?

I've tried research grade EEG devices as means for interaction while at the University of California, San Diego and pure thoughts of actions are hard to detect in a stable manner. It is well known in the neuroscience community that thought of actions activates the same regions in the brain as would be activated by actually performing them. We even have mirror neurons that are activated by observing other people performing goal-directed actions (picking up that banana) The neural activation of pure thought alone is subtle and hard to detect compared to performing actual movements, such as lifting ones arm. So, I do not expect it to be an actual Brain Computer Interface (BCI) capable of detecting thoughts (ie. thinking of kicking etc.) but more a detector of subtle motions in my forehead muscles (eye and eye brown movements, facial expressions etc.)

The firm Emotive has their own version of a consumer grade EEG which is named Epoc NeuroHeadset, it has been around for a little longer and seem to have a more developed software, but still mainly demonstration applications.

The Emotive NeuroHeadset

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