The EPOC consumer wireless headset, from Emotiv, can reliably distinguish between unique electrical (EEG) brain pattern signatures produced when a wearer simply ‘thinks’ of performing various computer game-applicable actions (left/right, push/pull, lift/drop, rotate, vanish), pulls certain facial expressions, or experiences certain emotions. In operation, brain wave data from 14 independent sensors on the headset is transmitted to a USB wireless dongle using Nordic Semiconductor ULP 2.4GHz transceivers.
Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor ASA recently announces that pioneering wireless mind-control specialist, Emotiv, is employing Nordic 2.4GHz proprietary transceivers in the off-the-shelf EPOC Neuroheadset platform that Emotiv is now actively targeting at the mainstream consumer gaming industry.
The Emotiv EPOC headset is essentially a wireless, real-time brain wave (EEG) acquisition device optimized for consumer use that uses 14 non-invasive sensors to measure unique brain wave signatures produced when a wearer simply ‘thinks’ of up to 13 gaming-applicable cognitive actions: left/right, push/pull, lift/drop, rotate in six dimensions, and vanish. (What this means, for instance, is that if the wearer thinks ‘push’ a gaming object will be propelled away from them, and if they think ‘pull’, it will be drawn towards them.)
But the headset – which additionally incorporates a gyroscope to detect movement – is more than just a brain-powered joystick: It can also detect facial expressions and even emotional states (e.g. excitement, calmness, tension, frustration, engagement) and so ‘knows’ how the gamer is feeling or responding, which means on-screen characters or games could be designed to respond ’empathetically’.
In operation, the EPOC headset requires no specialist training or equipment (such as a trained technician or conductive gels) to use beyond a simple on-screen guided initial setup and learn procedure (that can be designed as part of a game) to ensure all 14 sensors (located on self-adjusting arms) are correctly positioned and making adequate electrical contact with the user’s head. Uniquely in the case of the EPOC headset, this includes being able to operate through human hair – a natural electrical insulator. (See ‘About the EPOC Neuroheadset technology’ below for more detailed information on how the headset works.)
“What each of the 14 EPOC sensors is doing is taking 128, 16-bit sample ‘snapshots’ – every second – of the electrical fluctuations [EEG brain wave signals] resulting from the chemical activity of billions of active neurons in the brain measured on the µV scale,” explains Geoff Mackellar, Research Manager and CTO at Emotiv.
This data is then transmitted using a proprietary Nordic 2.4GHz transceiver to a twin transceiver located in a USB wireless dongle plugged into a computer USB port. The ultra low power operational characteristics of the Nordic transceivers helps the EPOC’s rechargeable lithium-polymer battery to run for up to 14 hours of continuous operation between charges – enough to satisfy even the most hard-core gamers.
“What all this means is that gamers can now interact with the virtual world by the power of thought alone,” continues Mackellar. “And this will enrich the gaming experience beyond all recognition as it will allow gamers to interact with gaming content in entirely new and seemingly magic ways that can include accurate emotional responses from virtual characters. In fact it could be just what the gaming market needs to take it to the next ‘must have’ product level.”
“But even this could be just the tip of the iceberg,” adds Tan Le, co-founder and president of Emotiv. “I believe that our wireless mind-control technology has begun a trend that means that one day, gamers may not need an input device like a joystick or gamepad at all to play a game, instead they will interact directly with the virtual gaming world by using the power of thought alone. And although the initial target for our product is the global consumer gaming industry, the potential is there to transform the way that we interact with all machines in the future.”
“The Emotiv EPOC platform is a truly fantastic example of the leading edge of consumer electronics design,” says Ståle Ytterdal, Nordic’s Director of Marketing and Sales in Asia. “It has laid down the technological foundation to create a brand new ‘mind gaming’ segment within the global gaming industry by offering reliable operation at a consumer pricing point. As such it is truly an honor to have Nordic’s ULP wireless technology involved in enabling a product of such ground-breaking magnitude.”
About the EPOC Neuroheadset technology
The Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset combines engineering, mathematics, neuroscience and computer science in a device that is powerful, affordable, and consumer friendly.
The mechanical structure of the Neuroheadset incorporates flexible arms that expand to ensure the sensors reliably track the movement of the skull – even as the user chews, talks or sneezes – for all shapes and sizes of head from older children up to large adults.
Traditional, a medical electroencephalogram (EEG) usually requires hair removal, abrasion of the skin, and the use of messy conductive gels. In addition, EEGs in medical applications can take a dedicated technician up to an hour to successfully configure. In contrast, the user can fit their own Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset in minutes – regardless of hair type or styling – using felt pads soaked in ordinary saline (salt water) solution to conduct electrical signals with high fidelity.
In operation, the user demonstrates a selection of pre-determined mental commands while raw EEG signals are collected from up to 14 significant areas of the brain and combined with advanced pattern-recognition algorithms. Later, when the user repeats the pre-determined command, the system recognizes the electrical signal pattern generated by the brain and executes the command.
With a longer training duration the Neuroheadset is also able to detect the user’s mental state including background mood and instantaneous emotional reactions. This training sequence takes longer than teaching the Neuroheadset the pre-determined commands because users are unable to become, for instance, happy, sad, engaged, or frustrated on cue. Instead the EPOC software gradually refines each emotional detection in the background as it observes the variability in the user’s mental patterns over many hours of use.
To ease the training for background mood and instantaneous emotional thought patterns, Emotiv collected data from many volunteers and used this to develop a set of “standard” signals. This was a challenging process because of the significant differences in anatomy between users. While the functional areas of the cortex have the same spatial relationship across the surface of the brain in all individuals, each person’s cortex is folded in a different orientation. Consequently, for each individual, the functional areas are in unique locations and depths in the brain’s tissue. Emotiv’s standard signal patterns effectively “unfold the cortex” by applying mathematical corrections to each signal prior to processing by the pattern-recognition algorithms.
Because muscles generate high levels of electrical “noise” which can swamp the brain signals, movement such as a smile, head tilt or even a blink overwhelms a traditional EEG. Medical systems go to great lengths to avoid these muscle-movement generated artifacts so that faint brain electrical activity can be picked up. This selective signal conditioning is impractical for a consumer electronics device which will inevitably have to cope with the user laughing, smiling or reacting in horror during their gaming experiences.
Emotiv turned the electrical signals generated by facial expressions to its advantage by developing a suite of facial expression “commands” which can be used to animate an on-screen avatar or perform actions during the game (for example, by scaring away mischievous creatures with a growl). These commands enable the system to ignore the large electrical signals generated by muscle movement and easily detect the much smaller electrical signals generated by the brain when instigating the various facial expressions without using sophisticated and expensive electronics and software.
The Emotiv detection suite is built into a single driver which produces simple yet meaningful outputs that can be detected directly through Emotiv’s Application Programming Interface (API). Consequently, the function of the Neuroheadset can be controlled directly by the game or application. Emotiv also provides a general interface which allows users to interact with all of the headset functionality, and a simple application which converts user-defined conditions such as a user-initiated PUSH action into user-defined keystrokes or control sequences. These control sequences can then be shared by other applications, allowing Neuroheadset to be used seamlessly with existing games.
Emotiv is a neuroengineering company that has brought to market a breakthrough interface technology for digital media taking inputs directly from the brain. This technology utterly transforms the way we interact with computers. Emotiv’s vision is to revolutionize human-computer input in the same way the graphic user interface did 20 years ago. For more information, visit www.Emotiv.com.
Applications for the Emotiv technology and interface span an amazing variety of potential industries – from gaming to interactive television, everyday computer interactions, hands-free control systems, smart adaptive environments, art, accessibility design, market research, psychology, medicine, robotics, automotive, transport safety, defense and security. Plans for introducing Emotiv into these and other broad realms are well established with developers and researchers in over 70 countries already working with the technology.
About Nordic Semiconductor ASA
Nordic Semiconductor is a fabless semiconductor company specializing in ultra low power (ULP) short-range wireless communication. For more information, visit www.nordicsemi.com.
Nordic Semiconductor’s nRF24xxx range of 2.4GHz transceiver and transmitter devices are aimed at applications including PC peripherals (wireless keyboards/mice/multimedia controllers), game controllers, intelligent sports equipment and wireless audio (for example, MP3 and portable CD player wireless headphones and wireless PC speakers). Nordic is a member of the ANT+ Alliance and has successfully collaborated with ANT Wireless of Cochrane, Canada, since 2005. ANT devices such as the nRF24AP2 family – using Nordic 2.4GHz transceivers and the proven ANT protocol – have been used in millions of wireless sensor nodes across the world. ANT is perfectly suited for any kind of low data rate sensor network topologies in personal area networks (PANs) and practical wireless sensor networks (WSNs). ANT+ (built on the ANT protocol) facilitates interoperability between ANT+ Alliance member devices in application segments such as sports, wellness, and medical health sensors.
Nordic is an associate member of the Bluetooth SIG, and has contributed core expertise in ultra low power (ULP) RF design to Bluetooth low energy wireless technology (formerly ultra low power Bluetooth). Bluetooth low energy is a short range RF communication technology featuring ultra low power consumption, a lightweight protocol stack and simple integration with Bluetooth chips. It is a hallmark feature of the latest Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0. The technology will support the next generation of RF communications by opening up many new opportunities for ULP wireless data links between suitably equipped mobile handsets or computers and small (typically coin cell) battery-powered devices such as sports, wellness, and medical health sensors. Nordic’s products are all manufactured in state of the art semiconductor process technologies through strong, long-term relationships with world-best manufacturing facilities. Sales are primarily made through a carefully selected worldwide distribution network.