Bringing back the brainwaves: NeuroGaming 2013 Conference in retrospect
It’s been a week since the NeuroGaming 2013 Conference concluded, but since there was so much groundbreaking stuff discussed in such a short amount of time, we figured it was worth circling back for a recap. In this article you’ll find a roundup of the most interesting, most bizarre, and most revolutionary ideas we came across at the event.
Walking into NeuroGaming Conf 2013, it would have been easy to imagine that you were seeing the beginnings of Star Fleet’s Neurotechnology division. The giant glowing neuron at the far end of the exhibition room helped the imagination along considerably. As mentioned previously, the atmosphere on the first day was that of excitement. The room was packed full of over 300 scientists, engineers, game developers, businessmen, and game enthusiasts ready to play with the array of technology displayed before them. Among the technology on display were well known devices such as the Oculus Rift, the B-Alert headset, the Emotiv headset, the Muse, Foc.us, and the Puzzlebox Orbit. There were also some new faces on the scene; notably Mindo, an EEG headset company based in Taiwan.
The excitement felt on the morning of the first day kept up through 2 full days, each with hours of discussion panel (held in Yetizen studios); a truly impressive feat for a conference of any kind. The reason for this was simple – not only were the topics fascinating, but everyone both on and off the panels is dedicated to making neurogaming a successful field. The overarching feeling that we took away from this conference was that ‘Now is the time for neurogaming.’
Reflecting back on the conference proceedings one week later, there are four elements that really stand out. First and foremost amongst them is the technology itself.
Wide variety of devices and applications
It was striking to see both how wide the variety of devices was, and how many applications stemmed from each of them. The haptic feedback devices were particularly attention-grabbing. There is a marked difference between simply swinging a digital sword, and feeling the impact of said virtual sword against a combat dummy. Likewise with the Oculus Rift, there is a big difference between looking around using a controller, and looking over your shoulder to see a robotic spider running towards you. Each of these devices adds an unparalleled element of realism to the gaming experience. While we were only able to try out the Sensory Acumen device in a non-gaming context, it’s easy to imagine how this would add an added level of integration into a gaming experience.
There was also a wide variety of brain-computer-interface devices, and applications for them. For instance, we were able wear a NeuroSky headset and make a toy helicopter fly using the Puzzlebox Orbit, and wear an Emotiv headset to compose a brain-wave inspired piece of music all within the span of 10 minutes. We also had the opportunity to use the B-Alert headset to try out the Intific attention training game. Lastly, we were able to try on the Muse headset when we sat down to talk with InteraXon’s Ariel Garten.
The second thing that was evident throughout the conference, was the communal understanding that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Everyone, in particular the developers of devices that toe the edge between entertainment and clinical therapy, were demonstrably cognisant of the ethical considerations that accompany the release of their products into the mass market.
For instance, a great deal of time during the Therapeutic Neurogaming panel was spent discussing how one could go about introducing biofeedback training games (such as Personal Neuro Devices’ Upcake and NeuroCog Solutions’ Focus Pocus) into the market without dissuading parents from seeking out medical treatment for children with ADHD. Similarly, a great deal of care is being taken by the creators of the Foc.us headset in order to ensure that the public is aware that it is not a medical device.
Consumer BCI for the medical community
Third, was the world of possibility that brain-computer interface technology opens up for the medical community, both for physical and psychological rehabilitation. For instance, B-Alert was demonstrating a simple, sleek, non-invasive device that enables the wearer to open and close their hand using only EEG signals. While this technology offers much less precision than a hand prosthetic, it can significantly increase the autonomy of someone who suffered a loss of function in their hand without having lost the hand itself.
Likewise, the MindWalker with the EEGoSport promises to offer the ability for paraplegics to walk using a highly intuitive EEG interface. Devices such as the Sensory Acumen, have extremely strong therapeutic potential. The scent-producing device has been used for treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, producing the scent of specific explosives, or the treatment of drug addiction by producing the scent of things like cocaine. The therapeutic possibilities are greatly extended by integrating this technology with something like the Oculus Rift. There was even discussion of using the NeuroDisco for cognitive therapy.
The future of neurogaming
Lastly, was the discussion surrounding the future of each technology and it’s place in the neurogaming market as a whole. We had a chance to sit down and discuss this with Zack Lynch, the mastermind behind the entire event. According to him, the future of this field lies in convergence of all the technologies. Having tried the technology for our self, we would have to agree. Shooting at evil robots in a virtual environment was a fantastic experience, but imagining this technology integrated with the Tactical Haptics feedback controller, the Bayer Vivi touch headset, the Sensory Acumen device, and potentially even a few EEG electrodes, or tCDS electrodes certainly creates an exiting image of the future.