Skip to Content

Mind-Controlled VR Game Really Works

Startup Neurable is making a strange sci-fi virtual-reality video game in which you select objects with your brain.
August 9, 2017
Neurable is working on a virtual-reality video game that you can control with your brain.

It may be a while yet before you can harness telekinetic powers in real life, but a brain-controlled virtual-reality game is aiming to let you use your mind to pick up and throw items with ease as soon as next year.

Neurable, a Boston-area startup, has started showing off (and letting people try) a demo of a dystopic sci-fi game called Awakeningthat the company is working on. It works with an electrode-laden headband that connects to an HTC Vive virtual-reality headset. Awakening casts the VR-headset wearer as a child with telekinetic powers who must escape a government lab by using mind power to pick up various toys—a balloon dog, alphabet blocks, rainbow stacking rings—and throw them. The technology behind the game, which Neurable showed me and also demonstrated at the Siggraph conference on computer animation and interactive techniques in Los Angeles last week, uses dry electrodes placed on the scalp and electroencephalography to track brain activity. Software analyzes this signal and figures out what should happen in the game.

Neurable said it is finishing up Awakening this year and hopes that the game and related hardware will be picked up by some VR arcade companies (of which there are a growingnumber) sometime next year.

The demo starts with a calibration process during which I called out toys—train, plane, and so on—and a person wearing the headset and electrodes was able to accurately and quickly select them from the circle of floating objects in front of him in virtual space. (I could see how he was doing on a computer monitor.)

Rob Jacob, a computer science professor at Tufts University who studies brain-computer interfaces, says he’s excited to see this kind of technology inch toward the mainstream, as it’s typically been used by people who are severely disabled, and it tends to be clumsy and slow.

Neurable has made a lot of improvements in a short period of time and claims more are coming soon. The training process, for instance, takes a couple of minutes, but Neurable cofounder and CEO Ramses Alcaide says it used to last 10 minutes. And by September, he adds, the company hopes to ditch this exercise entirely and just let players jump right into the game.

The hardware is still quite clunky, though, and there’s a ways to go before the software is a finished product. Furthermore, Jacob says, brain-interface technology simply doesn’t work with some people. “The brain is just really complicated.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.