Technology with attitude

NeuralDrift, a collaborative multiplayer BCI game inspired by the movie Pacific Rim

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Completed under 36 hours during WearHacks 2014 in Montreal, NeuralDrift is a collaborative multiplayer neurogame based on brain-computer interfaces. Inspired by the movie Pacific Rim, NeuralDrift lets two players – pilots – sync their brain activity to control a robot. One pilot controls the left side and the other the right side. NeuralDrift supports a wide range of EEG headsets: Muse, EPOC, Mindwave, Enobio, OpenBCI.

WearHacks, Montreal

In September 2014, Montreal (Canada) hosted a hackathon on wearables, called WearHacks. The theme was “wearables”, with devices like the Myo armband, the Muse headband, the Nod ring and other cool gadgets like these. WearHacks is a growing non-for-profit organization promoting wearables and Internet of things through various events. They empower innovators with the latest technology and connect them with the resources they need to turn their ideas into startup. After the local success they had in 2014, they are repeating their winning formula with more than 10 hackathons around the world in 2015.

NeuralDrift at Wearhacks, Montreal, 2014
NeuralDrift at WearHacks, Montreal, 2014

WearHacks in numbers:

  • 250+ hackers
  • 47 projects
  • 29 hours (straight hacking!)
  • 5 Members in the NeuralDrift Team
  • 4 Devices
  • 1 NeuralDrift

The Team

The NeuralDrift team was formed before the hackathon among friends and colleagues. A very talented and balanced team composed of 3 graduate students in brain-computer interfaces, 1 graduate student in machine learning and 1 undergrad student in computational arts. They had the full package for a successful hackathon: skills, passion, chemistry, leadership and execution.

Team members: Hubert Banville (BCI & ML), Raymundo Cassani (Acquisition & Comm.), Yannick Roy (BCI & Comm.), Ana Tavera Mendoza (Design), William Thong (ML).

The Inspiration

The game was inspired by the movie Pacific Rim, where two Jagger pilots have to synchronize their brain activity, called ‘The Drift’, in order to control a giant humanoid shaped robot to fight giant monsters threatening the earth. One pilot controls the left side and the other the right side. Lacking giant killer robots, the team aimed to control a Lego Mindstorm EV3.

The Game

As in Pacific Rim, one player controls the left side of the robot and the other player controls the right side of it. They have to do ‘nothing’ to have it move forward and relax to have it slow down and stop. The real fun begins when they have to turn left or right in order to pass an obstacle because one player needs to relax more than the other one to reduce the speed on his side so that the robot can turn (like in a boat if one side paddle less). It may sound trivial, but controlling your brain and ‘relax’ in a game environment with a moving robot and the pressure of your partner looking at you is no easy task.

NeuralDrift

Technical Details

Using Matlab as the main platform, the game runs 3 instances of Matlab communicating via TCP/IP (2 game clients and 1 game server). When you launch the game, the server connects to the android tablet via Bluetooth, connects to the Lego Mindstorm via Bluetooth as well and then the calibration phase begins. The calibration has 2 phases: one for the ‘baseline’, where both players are asked to do nothing (literally to do nothing) and one for the ‘action’, where both players must relax (or close their eyes to get perfect control with no training). They can also train with other mental states as well, like focus, if they prefer. For more technical details and information about the Alpha band in BCIs, the Matlab implementation or the machine learning algorithms, you can always contact the team.

BCI, Serious Gaming & Neurofeedback

NeuralDrift was designed as a game with no medical claim, but its underlying science of being able to control your brain(wave) has a huge value in the medical & therapeutic field of neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a way of conditioning your brain to work (or behave) in a certain way by rewarding it for good behavior. As the commercial BCI devices get better and better, we shall see more devices and games like the NeuralDrift with medical virtue in the coming years. Serious gaming and BCI is a very exciting combo.

We Are Wearable

After winning the creativity prize at WearHacks, the NeuralDrift team was invited by Tom Emrich for a demo in Toronto during the famous We Are Wearables event.

We Are Wearables

Conclusion: the future is exciting!

Lots of people have now tried the NeuralDrift through different events, and the feedback is unanimous: they want more. Even if most people don’t get it right on the first try because they are too excited and they want to see the result, often forgetting that they are the one in control, pretty much everybody gets it after the second try and loves to feel ‘the power of the force’. When people realize that they are actually controlling it only by focusing or relaxing, they are very impressed and intrigued at the same time. Wouldn’t you? The future is exciting!

What’s next for NeuralDrift? Half of the team is already working on an evolution of the NeuralDrift to exploit the medical benefits behind this kind of game.

Some members behind the NeuralDrift co-founded a group called BCIMontreal, and are currently undertaking the mission of promoting Brain-Computer Interfaces in Montreal. From research to high-school, they expose, explain, hack, study and vulgarize the BCI field. From workshops to hackathons to scientific café and science festivals they are becoming a BCI reference in Montreal.

Hackathons are as short as they are intense. They are a good platform to try new things, new technologies, try to solve problems by working almost uninterrupted for 30 hours, but most of all, they are great events to meet awesome people with incredible skills! You never know what will come out of it…

Disclosure: The author of this article is part of the NeuralDrift team and co-founder of BCIMontreal.

Read more about NeuralDrift on the following links:

Watch Yannick Roy talking about NeuralDrift (from 0:35):