Mind games: Harnessing the power of your thoughts

Soon, playing 'Super Mario' will rely on the power of your thoughts, not your thumbs. Simon Usborne explains

The year is 1983 and, in a Tokyo suburb, man (well, one man) is evolving a new use for his opposable thumbs. His tool: a strange lump of plastic attached, via cables and a bigger lump of plastic, to his television. Twenty-five years later, the ungainly set-up, known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, is a relic collecting dust in the gaming graveyard alongside the wood-panelled Atari 2600. But its legacy lives on.

Today's consoles use remotes that have barely changed in principle since Nintendo launched its landmark "D-pad" controller. But change is afoot which is liberating our weary thumbs; within the past two years, we have learnt to wave our hands, dance and poke at screens and, soon, we will need only one muscle to control the action – the brain.

Last week, Satoru Iwata, the president and chief executive of Nintendo, added weight to the chatter sweeping technology conventions and gaming forums – the new frontier in computer control is in the mind. "As soon as we think something in our brain, it will appear within a video game," he told reporters at the games industry's annual E3 conference in Los Angeles.

Gamers are already anticipating the launch of the world's first thought-controlled headset. The Australian company Emotiv plans to launch its EPOC headset by the end of the year. The firm says its gadget will feature 16 sensors that push against the forehead to measure electrical activity. In theory, the process, called electro-encephalography, will allow gamers to manipulate objects in three dimensions with the power of thought.

For Michael Brook, the editor of the gadget magazine T3, the prospect of mind control is a reason to get very, very excited. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, Brook had a go on a rival product to the EPOC – the OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator. "I was playing a first-person shooter and would squint my eyes to run faster or blink to shoot," Brook says. The three sensors built into the headband measure physical responses to thought – blinking, squinting, and the flow of blood around the face – rather than pure thought itself.

Gavin Ogden, the editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, calls thought control the "holy grail of video gaming". He adds: "It's been the dream for 20 years to put on a headset and get inside a game." But, he says, "It's not going to happen any time soon."

Other industries are also benefiting from the technology that could make mind control happen. Last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), an arm of the US Department of Defense, said it had awarded a $6.7m contract to Northrop Grumman to develop "brainwave binoculars". Sensors stuck to the scalp detect objects a soldier's eyes and subconscious may have seen before the conscious brain even knows it.

Meanwhile, intelligence analysts may soon benefit from "augmented cognition" – a device similar to the binoculars that promises to boost performance. And, on the battlefield, soldiers may soon wear headsets that alert their commanders to "brain overload" in the ranks. In medicine, thought-control technology will soon allow amputees to control the next generation of prosthetic limbs, or to create devices that allow stroke victims to communicate.

But it is in the games industry where the buzz surrounding thought control is loudest. At Emotiv's San Francisco offices, volunteers are this month testing the firm's wireless EPOC headset, which will be available "from selected retailers" later this year, costing around $300 (£150). And if it's all it's cracked up to be, it might just be the revolution in gaming people such as Brook and Ogden are praying for.

Emotiv has developed a game to go with the device in which the user's virtual self, or avatar, will smile, blink or scream when the user does. Objects can be lifted or supernatural powers summoned by the power of thought, while the environments will change according the user's mood. A built-in gyroscope will track head motion to guide you through the game. Most interestingly, software will allow the EPOC to be used to control existing games.

"This is the tip of the iceberg for what is possible for us," Emotiv's co-founder Tan Le told a rapt audience during a recent press demonstration. "There will be a convergence of gesture-based technology and the brain as a new interface – the holy grail is the mind."

Control freaks: the new ways to play
By James Cooper

Touch-screen
In 1977, five-wire resistive technology was developed and patented – the same type used by the Nintendo DS today. The user can interact with the display's content with either a plastic stylus or their fingers. Contact based in the corners and one in the centre estimate the pressure of a touch, based on calculations from the resistances. Other applications of this technology include PDAs, and mobile phones such as Apple's iPhone. Resistive touch-screen's cousin, infrared touch-screen, has the most durable surface, however, and is used in various military applications.

Balance board
With the appearance of a set of scales from the bathroom of Buck Rogers, the Wii Fit balance board contains four pressure sensors accurately to detect fine changes in weight distribution. This allows the user to control the game by moving the body and leaning. So far, Wii Fit games include yoga; ski-jumping; tight-rope walking; and – perhaps slightly depressingly for the obsessive computer enthusiast – measuring Body Mass Index. Future titles such as Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009 could potentially do wonders for the average gamer's physical health.

Smart camera
Developed for the PlayStation 2, Sony's Eye Toy is a camera with a built-in microphone that sits on top of the television, allowing players to interact with the game by detecting sound and motion. Sony weren't the first to come up with the concept – Nintendo's Game Boy and Sega's Dreamcast both had cameras before them – but improved processing capabilities meant that the PS2 was able to have a much better go at it, and an updated version is also available for the PS3. Future developments will include users being able to draw their own interactive landscapes and environments.

Motion-sensing remote
Through the use of accelerometer and optical-sensor technology, gamers can interact with and manipulate items on the screen using movement and pointing. Hackers have shown great interest in the technology, using the Wiimote (among other Wii products) for other applications, known collectively as Wii Homebrew. Companies are looking into reprogramming the Wiimotes for business applications, and there's already been an interactive whiteboard created using the one-handed controllers.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

    PPC Account Executive

    £25 - 28k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A PPC Account Executive is needed to...

    Android Developer / Java Developer

    £35 - 45k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a tech savvy Android Develo...

    Sales Account Manager

    £30 - 35k + 25% Y1 OTE + Fantastic Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an e...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album