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A computer mouse for the mind

· In the media

Virtual Reality can no longer be ingnored in the game industry. Ramses Alcaide, an electrical engineer and neuroscientist, started Neurable and designed the game Awakening. The game is still a prototype and makes use of a headset with virtual reality goggles and sensors that can read your brain waves. This way you select items in a virtual world with your thoughts.

Next to Neurable, a few start-ups and bigger companies like Facebook are working on ways to mentally control machines. They try to find a manner to use virtual reality technology easier. Ed Boyden, a professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, says, “Neurotechnology has become cool.” Neurotechnology has become more interesting because of the Obama administration. This resulted in more financing for brain-interface companies and related work in academia. Next, Elon Musk supported the initiative and started the company, Neuralink.

Awakening makes use of electroencephalography (EEG), that measurues electrical brain activity, which can provide simple ways of mentally interacting with a game. Other companies hope to build ways of performing nearly any computing task with the mind in the future. Neuralink thinks about developing ways of implanting hardware in the skulls of completely healthy people. Neurable is also looking for the boundaries. It is very hard to to separate the signal, which the sensors receives in the headset, from the noise. Though they work to read activity with a speed and accuracy that is not usually possible.

“We look at specific brain signals, and once we understand them, we can use them,” Ramses Alcaide says. Before playing the game, you train the algorithms to recognize when you are focusing your attention on an object. This way it learns from your behavior. Facebook likes to go further. They are busy with methods for optically reading brain activity from outside the skull. Such a system would shine light into the brain to directly read chemical changes. At short notice they hope their system makes it able to type with your thoughts five times faster than now type using a smartphone.