29 September 2015

VS-Games 2015 Paper II

On the 18th September 2015, I presented a paper I co-authored with colleagues from University of Madeira. It was presented at the 7th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-Games 2015). The conference took place at Skovde, Sweden, 16-18 September 2015.

The paper was titled ‘The Effect of Prior Gaming Experience in Motor Imagery Training for Brain-Computer Interfaces: A Pilot Study’ and presented the effect that prior gaming experience has at the brain pattern modulation as an attempt to identify elements that contribute to high BCI control.

A draft version of the paper can be downloaded from here.

28 September 2015

VS-Games 2015 Paper I

On the 17th September 2015, I presented a paper I co-authored with colleagues from Route 1 Games Ltd. It was presented at the 7th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-Games 2015). The conference took place at Skovde, Sweden, 16-18 September 2015.

The paper was titled ‘Fractal Nature - Generating Realistic Terrains for Games’ and presented a tool  that provides a set of fractal and physical based methods for creating realistic terrains called Fractal Nature. The output of the program can be used for creating content for video games and serious games.

A draft version of the paper can be downloaded from here.

20 September 2015

Video Games Change Your Brain

There are more than 1.2 billion gamers across the planet, with sales projected soon to pass $100bn (£65bn) per year. The games frequently stand accused of causing violence and addiction. Yet three decades of research have failed to produce consensus among scientists. In laboratory studies, some researchers have found an increase of about 4% in gamers' levels of aggression after playing violent games. But other research groups have concluded factors such as family background, mental health or simply being male are more significant in determining levels of aggression. What is certain is that science has failed to find a causal link between video games and real-world acts of violence. But away from the controversy, a growing body of work is beginning to show these games in a different light. Psychologists are split over whether video games can make you violent. Around the world, other researchers are investigating the potential hidden benefits in video games. At the University of Geneva, researchers compared the visual abilities of gamers and non-gamers. In one test, subjects must try to keep track of the position of multiple moving objects. They found that individuals who play action video games perform markedly better than those who do not. Their theory is that fast action games require the player constantly to switch their attention from one part of the screen to another while also staying vigilant for other events in the environment. They found action video gamers were better than other people at remembering which smiley faces in an experiment were blue. This challenges the brain, making it process incoming visual information more efficiently.

At the Max-Planck Institute of Human Development scientists research the effects of the video games on the brain. In one study, they used fMRI (functional MRI) technology to study the brains of subjects as they played Super Mario 64 DS, over a period of two months. They found that three areas of the brain had grown - the prefrontal cortex, right hippocampus and cerebellum - all involved in navigation and fine motor control. Volunteers had their brains scanned to study how they were affected by playing Super Mario. The visual layout of this game is distinctive: a 3D view on the top screen and a 2D map view on the bottom. Researchers believe having to navigate simultaneously in different ways may be what stimulates brain growth. Arguably the most exciting field of research is exploring the potential of video games to tackle mental decline in old age. While electronic brain training games have long had enormous popular appeal, there is no hard evidence playing them has any effect beyond improving your score. But at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers have created a game with a difference: Neuroracer. They believe pensioners can improve their ability to multitask if they play the right kind of video games. Aimed at older players, it requires individuals to steer a car while at the same time performing other tasks. After playing the game for 12 hours, they found pensioners had improved their performance so much they were beating 20-year-olds playing it for the first time. They also measured improvements in their working memory and attention span. Crucially, this showed that skills improved through playing the game were transferable into the real world.

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13 September 2015

Exoskeleton Show How We Save Energy When Walking

Ever waited for a bus rather than take the short walk to work? Headed for the escalator instead of the stairs? Humans clearly harbour a deep love of lethargy – and now we know how far people will go to expend less energy. We will change our walking style on the fly when our normal gait becomes even a little more difficult. The finding could have implications for the rehabilitation offered to people with spinal injuries. Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, strapped volunteers into a lightweight robotic exoskeleton and put them on a treadmill. Initially, the team let the volunteers find their preferred walking rhythm – which turned out to be 1.8 steps per second, on average. Then the researchers switched on the exoskeleton, programming it to make it more difficult for the volunteers to walk at their preferred pace by preventing the knee from bending – and leg swinging – as freely. The exoskeleton didn’t interfere with the human guinea pigs’ ability to walk faster or slower than they preferred.

Within minutes the volunteers had found a walking style that the exoskeleton would allow without offering resistance. Remarkably, though, they did so despite the fact that the exoskeleton only ever offered minimal resistance. By using breathing masks to analyse the volunteers’ metabolic activity, They found that subjects would shift to an awkward new gait even if the energy saving was only 5 per cent. Millions of years of evolution, and the experience we each glean from the millions of steps we have taken, can seemingly be overwritten in moments for the sake of making tiny energy savings. That’s not to say it wasn’t evolution that dictated our predilection for laziness in the first place. The finding might be bad news if you’re trying to burn as many calories as possible on the treadmill at the gym – your brain might subconsciously find energy-saving shortcuts – but researchers’ point out that plenty of other physical activity is enhanced by our energetic efficiency. Running a marathon, for instance, might be made easier by our ability to make these tiny energy savings.

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10 September 2015

The Robot Will See You Now

Researchers are getting closer to building machines that can interpret not just the words people say, but also the emotion that informs their meaning. It is the beginning of the telemedicine revolution, not just in terms of its use in remote and developing countries but also in terms of enabling specialists to consult more effectively in the developed world. It’s quite feasible that multimodal machine learning in the future could be used to help assess disorders and even diseases remotely, perhaps even in pandemic situations such as the recent Ebola outbreak.

Clinicians have been assessing patient’s nonverbal behavior subjectively, but now we are offering ways to do it objectively. Algorithms are developed that recognize communications such as facial expressions, posture, gestures and what is called paralanguage with a high degree of accuracy. In the past five to 10 years we’ve gone from talking about the concept to actually showing concrete examples. That was the hard part, now we have the attention of the medical community and are taking the next baby steps towards actually applying the science to mental health treatment and assessment.

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09 September 2015

Gibbon Skeleton Uncanny Stereo Vision

These photos of a lar gibbon skeleton were taken at London’s Grant Museum of Zoology – from locations 6.4 centimetres apart. Unfocus your eyes until the images overlap, and they may fuse, allowing you to see the gibbon in 3D. You may also feel that the skeleton is moving: the ribcage seems to belly out, the stance becomes lifelike. You might even get the sense that you are looking out of someone else’s eyes – unless your eyes are exactly 6.4 centimetres apart, that is.

This sense of presence, of witnessing a moment, stereograms portray animals preserved by Victorian collectors. The effect of looking at a stereoscopic image is magical and transformative. For those who struggle to fuse the images, help is at hand. Visitors to Naughten’s show Animal Kingdoms, will be handed special stereoscopic viewers (see photo). A book of images, complete with stereoscopic glasses, is in production.

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07 September 2015

Computer Interface Allows Disabled People to Control Musical Performance

Plymouth University works with patients at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability on a musical performance to unite a string quartet and four people living with severe disability for a world first in musical performance. The Paramusical Ensemble saw patients from the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) in London interacting with musicians through a Brain Computer Music Interface (BCMI).

The system, developed at Plymouth University, allows a person to control musical systems through brainwave signals detected by electrodes placed on the scalp. This performance was one of the first showcases of the technology, which researchers believe could have a transformative impact on people being treated for medical conditions such as locked-in syndrome.

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05 September 2015

Biofeedback Games Rewire Your Brain

The US has seen an increase in conditions that impact brain health; 48% of Veterans returning from combat who seek VA treatment are diagnosed with a mental health problem. The rate of reported sports-related concussions has doubled in the past decade. And diagnoses for neurological disorders such as ADHD and dementia have been steadily increasing.  Though there are cases in which medication is absolutely necessary, there are growing concerns about the rapid rise and abuse of psychotropic prescriptions without a proper evaluation by a mental health professional. Medication can provide supplementation or re-uptake certain chemicals that cause these symptoms, but take away the medication and the chemical processes still haven’t been cured. By doing EEG neurofeedback training, you’re teaching the neurons to release chemicals and to communicate in specific patterns. And by reinforcing those patterns, the neurons actually learn to communicate in a process called long term potentiation. The problem is that this information is hard to collect, requiring data collection using multiple measurement systems and hours of cross-specialty analysis.

So while neurofeedback and heart rate variability (HRV) training have been shown in a multitude of peer reviewed literature publications to be effective in remediation the negative effects of central and autonomic nervous system trauma such as concussion and PTSD, the roadblocks in knowledge and access keep physicians from practicing them. The team developed a system that puts all of the software, hardware and education in one accessible, easy-to-use place. They also provide a multifaceted education program with training manuals, bi-monthly live webinars and over 250 research references so that doctors can read the original studies behind specific parts of their tools. The system is a portable brain-computer interface that allows physicians to assess the extent and specific locations of brain injury by conducting EEG readings using a special device fondly called the ‘Michael Phelps’ due to its swim cap-like appearance. Heart and breath rate are also measured, giving the physician a full picture of a patient’s central and autonomic nervous systems. Physicians can create a training program that targets those specific brain areas that are not performing optimally to get them to fire and wire together.

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