The technology that gives humans the seemingly magic power of controlling objects with just our thoughts has been around for years, used mainly in neuroscience research and video games. Now it's breaking into the consumer market.
Neuro-tech company Emotiv Lifesciences just announced its latest brain-computer interface device, the Emotiv Insight, a consumer-friendly, sleekly designed headset that tracks and analyzes your brainwaves. The gadget is a new-and-improved version of the company's first-generation headset. Like its predecessor, the Insight can recognize basic thought controls: You can think "disappear" and watch a virtual object on the computer screen vanish.
The new device, however, is marketed to be used for more than cool mind tricks. The company wants to move into the hot wearable health tech space. Only instead of tracking how many hours you slept or how far you ran, it tracks your cognitive performance.
The headset's five EEG sensors gather real-time data on the brain by reading your brainwaves. Accompanying software translates the information into "understandable" feedback to give you insights into your mind. Armed with these insights and information, it helps you monitor and improve your brain performance.
"At launch, consumers can download a free mobile app (Android/iOS) that measures, tracks and helps them improve their attention, focus, engagement, interest, excitement, affinity, relaxation and reduce stress levels," Emotiv Lifesciences executive Kim Du told me in an email.
Brain-training mobile apps designed to give you a mental workout are increasingly popular, and I can only imagine that with more in-depth data about your own cognitive prowess, even more sophisticated apps and tools could be developed. Emotiv is opening up its API and hoping early-adopter developers will go to town building creative applications for the new device.
Now, back to the mind reading. In addition to the mental health applications, the new headset will be able to respond to basic thought commands, like push, pull, on, off, levitate, rotate, or disappear. Emotiv founder Tan Lee demonstrated how this works in a 2010 TED Talk. Wearing the first-generation headset, researchers were able to manipulate virtual images with the brain and control physical objects. They turned lights on and off, open and closed curtains, and flew a toy helicopter by thinking "lift."
In the future, it could possible to control animals with our brains. Harvard scientists recently created a brain-to-brain interface that successfully controlled a rat's movement with thoughts alone.
This makes the gaming community very excited, and the new headset is already stirring up speculation about how it could be integrated with Google Glass. Developers are working on ways to control class with a facial gesture like a wink. It's not too much of a stretch to think Googling with your thoughts is next.
The Emotiv Insight went up on Kickstarter yesterday and has raised triple its goal of $100,000. It's due to come out early next year.