Monday, May 5, 2008

Our brains to connect with games of future

AN Australian company has plans to deliver the next-generation in computer gaming, where players will use their thoughts rather than handheld controllers.

Emotiv Systems has developed the EPOC headset that uses 16 sensors and non-invasive EEG technology to "listen" to the electrical signals produced by the brain and synchronise these thoughts with 30 actions, such as pushing an object, or making something disappear.

The EPOC engages with the brain in three ways: expressive, which monitors a person's facial expressions; affective, which monitors brain activity to read emotions such as frustration, boredom or whether someone is engaged; and cognitive, which is using the mind to give instructions.

"Our vision for the future communications between man and machine is that it's not going to be limited to conscious control, but non-conscious interaction will play a big part," said CEO and co-founder Nam Do.

"Basically that creates the next generation of interface for human and computer."

Emotiv employs about 50 staff, evenly split across its Brain Research Lab in Sydney and its headquarters in San Francisco, where the software and hardware design was completed.

The company was co-founded in Australia in 2003 by Mr Do, president, Tan Le, neuroscientist, Allan Snyder and Neil Weste, who previously co-founded local wireless chip manufacturer Radiata Communications before selling it to Cisco in 2001 for about $500 million.

The EPOC will launch in the US in time for Christmas, retailing for $US299 (about $318), with the rest of the world to receive it sometime next year, but Mr Do said this schedule had not been finalised. The headset will be shipped with a game that Emotiv has developed to take advantage of the 30 different capabilities, but there is also an emulator that allows the headset to be used with any PC game, by synchronising specific thoughts with a specific action.

To get serious traction in the games market, major title producers will need to include it in the portfolio of supported devices and write games around the EPOC.

Mr Do was not able to name any specific deals with major game developers but said his firm was in discussions with "the major players".

Australian venture capital firm Technology Venture Partners has invested in Emotiv, which has attracted $US14.3 million so far to fund the headset's research and development.

Later this year, Emotiv is aiming to attract between $15 and $20 million to fund the initial production rollout, which will be in the "hundreds of thousands".

By launching the headset as a gaming device for the mass market, Emotiv has been able to drive down production costs, which usually range in the tens of thousands.

However, Mr Do said some of the biggest interest in the EPOC had come from other markets, such as the health industry, and this would contribute heavily to revenue in the future.

"In the future, the revenue is going to be very high from the other markets, because this is the input device for anything with an interface.

"Medical applications, educational applications, robotics - there are applications for all of those fields and fingers crossed it will be," Mr Do said.


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