24 March 2017

Controlling VR with Your Mind

Boston-based startup Neurable is focused on deciphering brain activity to determine a person’s intention, particularly in virtual and augmented reality. The company uses dry electrodes to record brain activity via electroencephalography (EEG), then software analyzes the signal and determines the action that should occur. Neurable, which raised $2 million in venture funding late last year, is still in the early stages: its demo hardware looks like a bunch of electrodes attached to straps that span a user’s head, worn along with an HTC Vive virtual-reality headset. Unlike the headset, Neurable’s contraption is wireless—it sends data to a computer via Bluetooth. The startup expects to offer software tools for game development later this year, and it isn’t planning to build its own hardware; rather, Neurable hopes companies will be making headsets with sensors to support its technology in the next several years.

Success may be a long shot. No method of interaction has come close to supplanting the physical devices we typically use to control digital experiences—handheld controllers, mouse, keyboard, touch screen. And brain-computer interfaces in particular can be clunky, slow, and prone to errors. But virtual and augmented reality are still in such early stages that the ways we use them aren’t yet entrenched, and they’re vastly different from other technologies. In an early demo of a VR game, actions—such as picking an item of food off a table and throwing it at a goblin—are controlled by analyzing brain activity to decipher intent. And while it’s nothing new to track brain activity via EEG and look for a particular signal that occurs when a user is trying to select something, the company says it has figured out how to reduce noise and use the signals more quickly than has been done in the past.

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