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NeuroGaming Conference 2015: Highlights

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Just over a week ago, the 2015 NeuroGaming Conference came to a close at the Metreon Center in downtown San Francisco.  Since then, the Neurogadget team has had a chance to reflect on the conference, and summarize some of the major highlights!The conference started with an inspiring keynote from Adam Gazzaley (Director of Neuroscape Lab at UCSF). Gazzaley jump-started the field of neurogaming with his research on ‘Neuroracer,’ a game that was shown to improve the cognitive skills of older adults (published in the prestigious journal Nature in 2013). This study demonstrated that videogames specially designed for cognitive training could induce what is known as ‘cortical plasticity,’ or changes in the brain. This has been the premise for educational ‘neurogames’ ever since.

In the keynote, Gazzaley also discussed his groups Glass Brain project. The Glass Brain is a novel way of visualizing EEG brain signals in real-time. This visualization tools allows you to visualize both the estimated source of the activity as well as the predicted connectivity with other brain regions. This work paves the way for neuro-feedback games that help train specific areas of the brain, or specific patterns of activation.  More specific training could lead to an overall improvement in the outcome of training.

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Adam Gazzaley discusses Neuroracer – one of the first ‘Neurogames’

This year, the conference was dominated by applications aimed at improving health, wellness and education. Even Throw Trucks With Your Mind, a game previously released for entertainment, is pursuing certification as a treatment for Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D).

The technology showcased at the conference can be broken down into four major categories:

  1. Devices meant to record brain and physiological signals
    1. Electroencephalography (EEG)
    2. Electromyography (EMG)
    3. Heart Rate, and Skin Conductance
  2. devices meant for brain stimulation (Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS))
  3. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), and motion capture
  4. ‘Cognitive Training’ software.

In the past year, there has been a massive push to improve the quality of EEG devices, and the change was evident in the quality of the products on display. Products like the Muse Headset, Neurosky Headset, and Emotiv EPOC continued to improve their user experience, and new products have come to the forefront of the consumer market. For instance, we had the opportunity to try out the Emotiv Insight for the first time, and use our ‘attention’ to race cars in their demo application.

Emotiv Insight Headset
Emotiv Insight Headset

The Insight is a 5-channel wireless EEG device that was crowd funded on Indigogo, and it is certainly beautifully designed. The headset is unique in that it uses a hybrid wet/dry recording electrodes, which combine the convenience of dry electrodes with the improved signal quality of wet electrodes.

OpenBCI has also made several advances in the past year. This year they were demonstrating their 3d-printed brain/muscle controlled prosthetic arm, a prototype for 3d printed electrodes, and a headset made using a 3d head scan.

Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy of OpenBCI discuss the OpenBCI system at their booth
Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy of OpenBCI discuss the OpenBCI system at their booth

During the first day, the panel discussions were predominantly focused on the topic of immersive gaming – how we can use biosensors and motion capture to create more engaging and more diverse gaming experiences. One of the more memorable panels was ‘Full Play – Entertainment NeuroGaming Convergence.’ Don’t forget, all of the panel discussions are available on twitch!

This panel included Erin Reynolds (Founder and Creative Director, Nevermind), Greg Moss (Founder and Creator, Neuromage), and Lat Ware (Founder, Throw Trucks With Your Mind. The game Nevermind serves as an excellent example of how Neurogaming is about much more than just EEG. Nevermind measures stress using heartrate, and makes the game more frightening as you get more stressed. While this game is not yet clinically approved, it does aim to help players learn to manage their stress (in game), which could someday evolve into a game that helps with anxiety conditions.

Erin Reynolds discusses Nevermind during the 'Full Play' Panel
Erin Reynolds discusses Nevermind during the ‘Full Play’ Panel

Neuromage, on the other hand, serves as great examples of why Neurogaming should definitely include EEG. Controlling things with brainwaves is just cool. It’s definitely true that EEG signals can be distorted by things like movement and muscle activity, but that does not make it feel any less real when you are unlocking new spells by ‘meditating’ during real-time combat.

The second day focused more on the education and health applications of neurogaming. Panels also delved into aspects such as Data Privacy, Neuroethics, and Artificial Intelligence.

Ariel Garten discusses the future of brainwave data secturity during the "Industry Issues: Wearable Data Security and App Efficacy Standards" panel
Ariel Garten discusses the future of brainwave data secturity during the “Industry Issues: Wearable Data Security and App Efficacy Standards” panel

With regards to education and health, the primary focus has been games for improving ADD/ADHD (pun intended).  Many of these games, for instance those that were being presented by Akili, have now been clinically validated and show a great deal of promise. Many presenters discussed additional uses for neurogames like anxiety therapy, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapy, and memory improvement.

It is important to note that many of the games marketed for ‘wellness’ are not intended for clinical use. Similarly, many of the games marketed for focus and memory improvement have not been clinically validated. For this reason, Ariel Garten (CEO of Interaxon) has established the Center for Responsible Brainwave Technologies (CeReB).

Stay tuned for articles about the NeuroGaming Hackathon, Pre-conference ESCoNS Summit, and CeReB in the coming days!

Text and photos by Melanie Segado & Yannick Roy