Throw out your touchscreens, kibosh your Kinects because thought-controlled computing is the newest new thing. Brain-computer interface technology has been simmering for years, and seems finally ready to bubble out of research labs and into the real world.
Earlier this year, the Toronto Art Space Site3 built a thought-controlled flamethrower, for fun. Toronto has long been a hub for brain computing, in part because legendary cyborg Steve Mann is a University of Toronto engineering Professor Mann also cofounded the thought-controlled computing consultancy InteraXon, which built the neural installation at this year’s Olympics.
They use brainwave-reading headsets made by Neurosky and Emotiv which handle much more than mere alpha/beta wave measurement: Emotiv’s, in particular, can track eye motion, facial expressions, emotional state, and even directional thoughts.
The potential applications go way beyond flambés. It includes advance warning of epileptic seizures, headset-controlled airline entertainment systems, and thought-controlled welding systems.
Gaming is also a big market (making the Kinect seem so five minutes ago) but the ability to connect neural headsets and mobile devices is even more interesting. Garten—who will be speaking at Le Web next week, and at CES in January—sketches a compelling vision of stylish headsets growing more common than Bluetooth earpieces today, and their users interacting with phones, kiosks, and other devices without so much as twitching a lip or finger.
InteraXon already connects neural headsets to iOS devices over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both Neurosky and Emotiv have made SDKs available for developers, and have app stores up and running. Their futures look ripe with potential—until and unless someone like Apple decides to play in this space. iMind, anyone?
We’re still a long way from real wetware (direct brain-computer connections) but last week an NYU professor had a digital camera implanted in his head. It’ll be many years (if ever) before that goes mainstream, but the line between the mind and its tech is growing finer. “It can be a transformational experience,” Garten says, of the moment users first don a headset. “For the first time, you’re consciously interacting with your own brain.”