Please welcome this guest post by Sumner Magruder, also known as SumNeuron to his thousands of followers on Twitter and Youtube. Sumner is a neuroscience and biomathematics student at Rhodes College, conducting research in the fields of neuroendocrinology (for social behavior) and the molecular mechanisms of memory. He is also a talented and enthusiastic reporter, who interviewed most of the exhibitors at last week’s NeuroGaming expo. At the end of this post you can read more about him. Now, let’s hand it over to Sumner!
A conference unlike any other
Amongst the city’s collage of conferences, a conference with a topic unlike any other was taking place in the Metreon of San Francisco.
The morning of May 7th neuroscientists, computer scientists, hackers, and individuals with a passionate interest in the topic of neurogaming came in carrying laptops and tablets as well as various other contraptions including EEG headsets and Oculus Rifts. As I joined the group I couldn’t help but comment on the overwhelming number of cardiologists – here for a pace making conference – utilizing caffeine to antagonize adenosine receptors and indirectly alter their noradrenergic system influencing their heart rate. I digress.
This year was the second NeuroGaming Conference, in what I suspect to become a widely more popular event. Despite only the second year, the conference was short and intense. Over two days experts of the various spectrums of fields relating to neuroscience and computer science met and had engaging discussions. Some where down right humorous. The themes ranged from new technologies and the advancement of NeuroGaming to utilizing neurotechnology to improve and heal the brain. These talks are free to watch at neurogamingconf.com or here on Neurogadget, and if you have the time, I recommend that you give them a listen.
While the Panel Talks were recorded for the masses to enjoy, the expos were not. Therefore, armed with an iPhone, a Sony CyberShot, and a small SD card, I set out to capture all of the technology, sneak peaks, and demos so that you can stay up to date in the latest Neuro Technology.
EEG headsets – Some General Info
First thing is efficacy. Neurofeedback has been shown to be effective. However consumer EEG headsets as a whole are relatively new and the extent of their benefits have yet to be widely confirmed, although there is some work that is promising.
Just keep this in mind for all the EEG headsets listed below. There is much research on stress management therapy and cognitive training and their beneficial effects, but this work has yet to be widely replicated via neurofeedback using these headsets and their associated apps. So as a fair warning to the not-so-neuro-savvy crowd, take all claims of improved cognition with a grain (yes a teensy grain) of salt. In general, the work is promising.
Second, most of this will not make much sense without a basic understanding of EEGs a.k.a. Electroencephalography. Click to open the accordion: [accordion title=’A synopsis of EEG’]
Your neurons work via electrical and chemical signals, and you have a lot of neurons (≈100 billion). Just as we can use sensors to read electrical activity in wires, we can read the electrical activity from neurons both deep within the brain and on the surface… but to read the ones inside your brain, we need to put an electrode IN your brain. So we’ll stick to the neurons near the surface of your skull. Neurons are cells, and cells are tiny. Therefore what EEGs read is not the electrical activity of a neuron, or a specific neural circuit, but the synchronous firing of cortical (near the surface of your brain) pyramidal (look like little pyramids) neurons. —> How cute :3
Again, this is reading the firing of many (think thousands) of neurons, and this signal has to still go through the meninges (membrane around your brain) and then that thick thing that lives inside your face (the skull). So the signal is very weak and needs to be amplified. Also, the signal is not very clear, the different brain waves have to be parsed. Once we have the different brain waves, due to lots of scientific research, we can glean a general understanding of what is going on. No, this cannot control your mind (but brain to brain interfacing is being developed). Nor can this read your specific thoughts. With your brain waves we can get a general consensus of what is going on. Hence the more electrodes (the things reading your brain waves) we have, the better picture we can get of your brain.[/accordion]
Emotiv is perhaps the Apple of Consumer EEGs. They offer two lines; the EPOC and the Insight.
Consider the Emotiv EPOC the Mac Pro if you will. The EPOC is a research grade EEG headset with an impressive 14 nodes and 2 references for improved resolution. Just as Macs come with the iWorks suite, the EPOC comes with its own host of detection suites; Expressive (for detecting facial features like blinking and smiling), Affectiv (emotional state), and Congitiv (thought).
Augmenting the EPOC’s massive features is that despite the collection of nodes, it boasts an elegant design and equivalent user interface. In the video below you can see features such as smart artifacts, which takes artifacts (like eye movements and muscles in your face that can mess with the readings) and utilizes them to improve their brain wave readings. The advantage of the EPOC is that whether your into research, gaming, cognitive training or advertising you can do most anything with this headset all for $299.
Then there is the Emotiv Insight, or the new “Retina Display MacBook Pro.” Emtoiv Insight is sleek with five sensors. However unlike many headsets that emphasize frontal lobe sensors, the Insight has a well spaced layout. With the Insights’ high end sensors that do not require saline or a setup and its good node placement, the insight keeps much of the functionality of the EPOC. So although more conservative on the number of nodes than the EPOC, I would not discredit or downplay the Insight. On its own, the Insight is a powerful user friendly headset. Both models give access to raw EEG, and with their SDK I’d keep an eye out for developments for both games and research.
Sixense is the maker of the STEM System, a wireless motion tracking system for virtual reality. Their system comes in a neat little box and requires little setup. STEM will support 5 wireless trackers for head, hands and full body. All it needs now is one of those gaming treadmills.
Throw Trucks with Your Mind
Lat Ware’s quest to become a Jedi is admirable indeed. Utilizing NeuroSky’s MindWave, Throw Trucks with your Mind allows you to use your focus and meditation to push and pull objects and work with others to lift the heavier things in the game. What makes the game so addictive and challenging? You can’t directly attack other players, rather you must manipulate the environment to bash your competitors into the ground. With characters like robo-kitten you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Perhaps my favorite group that I learned about at the conference was the girls and guys at inTIFIC.
inTIFIC is home to many distinguished neuroscientists and researchers, including many who’ve worked for DARPA (some of whom have worked on Project SyNAPSE for those who into AI).
A current project at inTIFIC is NeuroBridge, a software for the development of powerful simulations. A great application of this technology is that rather than asking a person what they might do in a given situation, observing them “in the wild” or an artificial laboratory setting, with an immersive virtual reality simulation many variables can be controlled for. Therefore, with biophysiological measures, these experiences can become reliable and replicable.
In the video below you see NeuroStorm (built with NeuroBridge). In this demonstration we are playing in sort of a two player mode where one person controls the lasers and another’s brain waves control the score multiplier. Therefore score is dynamically controlled.
The group at Mood Band is one of this year’s hackathon that proceeded the conference. If you ever owned a mood ring, well the group behind Mood Bnad made them a whole lot more high tech. Reading your brain waves, Mood Band provides an LED display to depict your mood in color. If you have ever wanted to get started hacking or development so you might one day be on the other side of the booth, check out the video below where Mood Band offers some solid advice on how to get started.
NeuroMage and NeuroSky
NeuroMage is by far the closest we’ve come to wizardy. For anyone with an inkling to do magic, NeuroMage offers a well developed experience to users that let them live the struggle of balancing both the strategies and zeal of combat as well as maintaining zen to cast your spells. In the heat of battle you must maintain your composure and in a full on mage battle mental might is everything.
NeuroMage is developed for the NeuroSky MindWave, which is a one node EEG with an ear sensor to improve signal quality. Essentially the like a V8 – take electrode and apply directly to your forehead – NeuroSky allows for mental attention and meditation to be measured with great ease. A plus to NeuroSky is its expansive software. Already NeuroSky’s MindWave has not only educational software but also games and free developer tools. If you are looking for a quick in to the neurotech trend, NeuroSky is an affordable option at $79. Again my previous comments about neurofeedback apply. As for the design, right now it is a slightly larger than some of the other headsets. However, at the NeuroGaming Conference we did get a sneak peak of a slimmer headband like version that will be coming soon. With games like NeuroMage, NeuroSky is positioned to change the experience of neurogaming and start to bring neurogaming out of its infancy.
PrioVR offers a full suit for immersive game play. By tracking not just hands and head, but arms, leg and body this suit puts you in the game. If you’ve ever wanted to kick a zombies face in, this is the technology that will let you have that capability. Right now, as you can see, set up takes a bit of time. However, an easier design for suiting up is on the way. I’m just waiting for it to come in an ironman briefcase.
Muse is a five node headset for reading your brainwaves with two ear sensors for improving signal quality and was developed by Canadian company InteraXon. A company that has worked with renown institutes like the Krembil Neuroscience Institute and the Rotman Brain institute.
What makes Muse particularly unique in the growing market of consumer EEG headsets is its focused application on stress management. Many headsets come with applications aimed at focusing the mind, and many neuro-/cognitive games go to strengthening memory. Having studied both brain disorders and neuroendocrinology, in addition to a large body of literature, I can say confidently that humans were not made for chronic stress.
Becoming more proficient managers of stress and our reactivity to it has immediate and long term implications in our well being and potentially even behavior (if you’ve seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk about how dominant posture impacts stress response).
In addition to the stress angle of Muse, comes its design. For their first generation Muse is very sleek, although I must note, as with all headset products, more hair equals more hassle… especially if you have dreads. Muse sports a $299 price tag* and while there are consumer grade headsets for as low as $79, those tend to be 1 node. Does the number of nodes make a difference? Incredibly so. More nodes add more spatial resolution and a more comprehensive view of the brain. Most researchers use either 16-, 32-, or 64- node EEGs, so the increased resolution of 5 nodes compared to one is significant.
* For those of you interested in neuro-marketing, I suggest you read some of very accessible work by Martin Lindstrom. His books are friendly to a wide audience and explain things like why prices are set like $2.99 or $2.95 instead of $3.00 (it’s because that 2 makes you think $299 is much less than $300+). Also, two interesting groups at the conference involved in NeuroMarketing include iMotions and Bowen Research.
FaceShift uses the latest in facial tracking technology to map your face onto a controllable avatar… well with the exception of your tongue movements. It terms of gaming, you’re face and personality can now be put into the game. Their work will likely be incorporated into phones and computers as the technology becomes smaller and cheaper. What is really impressive is FaceShift’s live streaming feature, which gives you the ability to be the Wizard of Oz, or any other avatar for interactive installations. I’m preferential to the pug.
OpenBCI is a rockstar. They are making neurotech open source, which will make development faster, cheaper, and more available. Their board (now allowing for daisy-chaining for two+ boards), supports an eight channel EEG signal. They are also gathering all the algorithms you need. However it’s best if I let the man behind OpenBCI, Conor Russomanno, explain it himself.
Founder, Steve Castellotti, of Puzzlebox Orbit, the brain controlled helicopter gives you his reflections on the NeuroGaming Conference.
More about the author
A short introduction of Sumner Magruder, neuroscience and biomathematics student at Rhodes College, with his own words:
I am very passionate about the brain, especially in helping others understand it.
So if you have ever been curious about the brain, but don’t know where to start to learn about the complexities of neuroscience, I’m the guy for you.
SumNeuron is an educational Neuroscience channel that covers core topics in neuroscience such as foundations, brain disorders, and neuroendocrinology, as well as whimsical musings such as “Is it even possible to upload a mind to machine” and the neuroplasticity that is occurring in Lyft drivers brains.
The best part of the channel? It’s interactive. I answer your questions. All you have to do is ask! What’s that? You like free stuff you say? Get some friends to like, comment, subscribe and share and you might find a plush neuron in your mailbox!