Mind control: the latest assistive technology

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

A short article in my newspaper caught my eye ‘PC games controlled by thought’. It described the Epoc Headset from Emotive Systems. The headset is a lightweight ‘hat’ which uses electroencephalography (EEG), to measure brainwaves, and a gyroscope, to detect head movements. The signals are sent wirelessly to a processor. Analysis of the signals enables the system to recognise such things as:

  • Facial expressions
  • Emotions (fear, excitement, boredom)
  • Desired force (lift an object or push it way)

The market for this device is for serious gamers so their avatar can replicate facial expressions, or if boredom sets in, the game could be made more compelling.

The thing that really excited me about this device is the price; it is being suggested that when it becomes publicly available later this year it will retail for around 300 US dollars. I assume it is this inexpensive because it is aimed at a very large potential market.

Its price and its functionality suggest to me that it could revolutionise the accessibility market. If you compare this to eye-gaze products or specialised mice or single switches the price is comparable and the functionality is significantly higher.

It is designed for the gaming market and because of its capability it will open up games and virtual worlds to many people with disabilities who cannot use the normal controls. To understand this issue see my article ‘Second Life is now too important not to be accessible‘.

However the headset could be used for more mundane computing tasks such as moving a mouse pointer on a screen, drag and drop (focus on an object, close one eye to indicate drag, move the head and then open the eye to drop) etc.

The accessibility market is full of products that have been developed to solve a niche accessibility issue and have found a much larger audience (such as voice recognition) and also products that have been designed for the mass market but have solved an accessibility issue (for example SMS used by the deaf community). Epoc could be a great example of a mass market product moving to accessibility.

Given that Emotiv is an IBM partner I believe that the Epoc headset should quickly find its way into helping people with a variety of different disabilities. The most obvious group are people with muscular-skeletal complaints ranging from mild RSI to quadriplegia. However other disorders could find this device useful, including people with learning difficulties, people recovering from a stroke and many others.

Emotiv are looking for Beta Evaluators for the gaming environment I would really like to see them add another Beta program to look at the applicability of the Epoc headset to the accessibility market.