Researchers at NeuroSky and other startups are also building prototypes of toys that use electromyography (EMG), which records twitches and other muscular movements, and electrooculography (EOG), which measures changes in the retina.
While NeuroSky’s headset has one electrode, Emotiv Systems Inc. has developed a gel-free headset with 18 sensors. Besides monitoring basic changes in mood and focus, Emotiv’s bulkier headset detects brain waves indicating smiles, blinks, laughter, even conscious thoughts and unconscious emotions. Players could kick or punch their video game opponent – without a joystick or mouse.
”It fulfills the fantasy of telekinesis,” said Tan Le, co-founder and president of San Francisco-based Emotiv.
The 30-person company hopes to begin selling a consumer headset next year, but executives would not speculate on price. A prototype hooks up to gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.
Le, a 29-year-old Australian woman, said the company decided in 2004 to target gamers because they would generate the most revenue – but eventually Emotive will build equipment for clinical use. The technology could enable paralyzed people to ”move” in virtual realty; people with obsessive-compulsive disorders could measure their anxiety levels, then adjust medication accordingly.
The husband-and-wife team behind CyberLearning Technology LLC took the opposite approach. The San Marcos-based startup targets doctors, therapists and parents of adolescents with autism, impulse control problems and other pervasive developmental disorders.
CyberLearning is already selling the SmartBrain Technologies system for the original PlayStation, PS2 and original Xbox, and it will soon work with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The EEG- and EMG-based biofeedback system costs about $600, not including the game console or video games.
Kids who play the race car video game ”Gran Turismo” with the SmartBrain system can only reach maximum speed when they’re focused. If attention wanes or players become impulsive or anxious, cars slow to a chug.
CyberLearning has sold more than 1,500 systems since early 2005. The company hopes to reach adolescents already being treated for behavior disorders. But co-founder Lindsay Greco said the budding niche is unpredictable.
”Our biggest struggle is to find the target market,” said Greco, who has run treatment programs for children with attention difficulties since the 1980s. ”We’re finding that parents are using this to improve their own recall and focus. We have executives who use it to improve their memory, even their golf.”
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