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Teen Plays Videogame With Brain Signals 204

SkyFire360 writes "A team of ECoG (ElectroCorticography) researchers from Washington University in St. Louis successfully wired a young man's brain up to a computer and began reading the neurological firings in his brain. After analyzing the action potentials created when a neuron fires, they were able to get two-dimensional control of a cursor. Taking the research one step further, they decided to connect an old Atari 2600 to the signal processing computer to see if the young man could control the videogame system."
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Teen Plays Videogame With Brain Signals

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  • Funny. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:22PM (#16379321) Homepage Journal
    Space Invaders on an Atari 2600? Played with Mind Control?!? Very funny, guys.

    I suppose the researchers thought it would be hi-friggin'-larious to make the Atari Mindlink [] a reality. That way they really COULD play games with their mind! (Insert *snickers* and *gaffaws* here.) Considering that the original was a sham (you were really moving your brow to control the game), I'm not sure they really want to be associated with such "technology".

    On the other hand, I suppose they deserve some serious Geek Cred for making such an obscure reference with this experiment. Most people wouldn't "get it" anyway, and would only see the neat research going on. :P
    • The Atari Mindlink was the first thing that I thought of when I saw this.
    • funny I thought that this was done with c-64's back in 86 or 87. you could control 1 or 2 sprite's. it's been a long time, but I do recall trying it and being very frustrated.
    • Nice state-of-the-art pants that kid is wearing.

      *gaffaw*! *gaffaw*!

      But seriously, it's interesting their choice in games. I might have gone for Tetris or Spy Hunter.
  • Sadly (Score:4, Funny)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:25PM (#16379373)
    Sadly the first game hooked directly to his brain was Yars Revenge, and now the poor lad just goes around headbutting walls.
    • Re:Sadly (Score:4, Funny)

      by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:34PM (#16379491) Homepage Journal
      It could have been worse, they could have given him the old "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" game.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Soygen ( 911358 )
        You could hardly control ET with a joystick, let alone with your brain.
      • by dr_dank ( 472072 )
        It could have been worse, they could have given him the old "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" game

        After succumbing to severe brain damage, his body would be dumped in the New Mexico desert, flattened by a steamroller, and covered in concrete.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Paperweight ( 865007 )
      What happens when he plays one of those literally impossible NES games [] and in his frustration tries to break the controller in half?
    • by MikeFM ( 12491 )
      In highschool we did a project where we learned to play Doom using an EEG device. Didn't work perfect but it did sort of work and with enough work I think anyone could learn to do it. It was mostly looking at the results of an EEG and learning to make differences in the read-out and then assigning the different levels to mouse signals. We used modified voice recognition software for processing the output waves from the EEG.

      We also used hypnotism to make players believe they were really in the game.

      Damn we w
  • Uh oh... (Score:4, Funny)

    by BMonger ( 68213 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:25PM (#16379385)
    Can you make a Beowulf cluster of... teens?
    • Re:Uh oh... (Score:4, Funny)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) * on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:39PM (#16379573)
      Can you make a Beowulf cluster of... teens?

      Just go to a mall and observe.

      • Re:Uh oh... (Score:4, Funny)

        by Kuj0317 ( 856656 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:36PM (#16380495)

        Unfortunately, the networking overhead causes the computation power of the group to be significantly less than that of any given individual.

        I am old. And bitter.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kfg ( 145172 ) *
          Unfortunately, the networking overhead causes the computation power of the group to be significantly less than that of any given individual.

          And the output is psuedorandom - at best.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AdamThor ( 995520 )
      Beowulf cluster of teens would work poorly [].

      1/IQ(tot) = 1/IQ(t1) + 1/IQ(t2) + 1/IQ(t3) ...

    • Not a good solution. (Score:3, Informative)

      by raehl ( 609729 )
      The computing power of a Beowulf Cluster of teens, where T is the power of one teen and n is the number of teens in the network, is T^(1/n).

      Even worse, if you connect your cluster to the internet, the effective computing power becomes T^(1/n)/B, where B is the bandwidth of the connection.

      There is a special exception to this, however, that takes into account the Mischief Coefficient. For any problem, P, with a fractional mischief component of M, the expected power becomes T^(1/(1-M)n).

      As we can see, for any
  • by cmburns69 ( 169686 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:26PM (#16379397) Homepage Journal
    I'm posting this with my mind. I hope I dont get modded down. Oh crap, I can't silence my inner monologue! Oh crap! crap! crap... *carrier lost*
  • So what. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PrinceAshitaka ( 562972 ) * on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:26PM (#16379401) Homepage
    I saw this ten plus years ago on PBS. It was a professor somewhere could control hos sail boat with this. This is nothing new. Call me when they can do more than binary control. That would be interesting.
    • Re:So what. (Score:4, Informative)

      by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:40PM (#16379613) Homepage
      The same sort of thing is already being used for ADHD and depression therapy, as well:,,204 09-2379616,00.html []
      • Oh, good idea. Kid got ADHD? How about hooking him directly up to a video game! Overstimulation without all that messy Ritalin, and for only pennies a day*.

        * Batteries not included.
        • by 7Prime ( 871679 )
          Actually, it's incredibly effective. To be able to train your mind to be able to accomplish whatever goal is set, takes incredible amounts of relaxed thought. Neuro-feedback therepy (which I used to do), uses games with simple goals that can only be accomplished when your brain is able to output certain brainwave frequencies. For ADD, these are usually things that corrispond to heightened awareness (a lack of which is one of the main causes of ADD), lowered beta waves, etc. When that goal is met, the comput
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      The difference is the dude in the sailboat had trained his brain to generate a specific waveform through positive feedback which was then modified to handle left-right movement on the wheel on the sailboat. This is taking direct neuron firings from just above the brain, not outside the skull. Then training a computer to figure out what is controlling what. And they ended up with a 2-d test movement that worked as well. This is quite a bit different for the future of controls of systems outside of the no
    • Re:So what. (Score:5, Informative)

      by SkyFire360 ( 889512 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @02:36PM (#16381443)
      Hi. I'm SkyFire360, I wrote that program. I'm the guy in the blue shirt.

      Though we're the first lab to use the ECoG technology, even our resolution is too poor to accurately control things in more than two dimensions. A breakdown of the different resolutions of Brain-Computer-Interfacing is here []. The problem with EEG is that the skull acts as a signal damper that disperses and blurs the electromagnetic waves created by the neurons. Though we can still detect the waves created, it becomes increasingly more difficult to discern what area of the brain created these waves, much less what neuron(s) did.

      A breakdown of the different types of BCI currently being developed and researched:
      • EEG - Electro-Encephalograph - Biggest advantage is that anyone can use it, as it can be worn like a helmet or a headband. Though because it is non-invasive, it has extremely poor resolution
      • ECoG - Electro-Cortocography - Though it needs to be implanted inside the skull, it produces fairly good resolution. Also, because it only sits on top of the brain as opposed to inside gray matter, it has much less of a chance to form scar-tissue (though still greater than zero). Tough to get more than one dimension of control.
      • Single Receptor - A microscopic electrode is placed directly in contact with a specific neuron or group of neurons. This allows researchers to directly measure the potential of one neuron firing. Of course, this requires the electrode to be implanted. This form of BCI is also very prone to scar-tissue buildup, causing the signal to become weaker and possibly lost as the body reacts to a foreign object in the brain.
      • Light Reactive Imaging - Still very theoretical - A laser is trained on a single neuron and its reflectance is picked up by a separate sensor. When the neuron fires, the laser light pattern and wavelengths that are reflected change slightly. This allows researchers to monitor a single neuron while leaving the tissue "untouched", negating the issue of scar-tissue buildup. However, this technology is not able to penetrate the skull yet, as would be needed for external/non-invasive BCI
      More information about BCI and ECoG can be found in a presentation [] from a WashU professor... actually, he's the guy standing behind the computer. Check pages 9-11 for some good slides

      Though keep an eye out for us at BMES... we just found coding for direction and velocity, and it is scalar. :D Oh yeah, anyone have any questions?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I agree, this article is really old news. I worked on an undergraduate project two years ago as a freshman at the Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering department that aimed to use EEG signals as a form of non-invasive computer input device (EEG Keyboard). At that time, we had already seen a lot of demonstrations where games were played using implanted electrodes. They were far more impressive than this game.

        By the way, using EEG's is definitely possible. We managed to get usable signals from only 8 (ful
      • A breakdown of the different types of BCI currently being developed and researched:

        Any attempts of using magnetoencephalography for this purpose ?

      • Just for reference, the parent posted the same thing in the previous discussion of neural-interface gaming []. But I think he can be allowed the cut 'n paste in this case... give him more time to design the next generation of motorized wheelchair controllers so I can terrorize the kids in the yard in my old age.
    • I saw this ten plus years ago on PBS. It was a professor somewhere could control hos sail boat with this. This is nothing new.

      Who are these hos, and how can I party with them?
  • by Gotung ( 571984 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:29PM (#16379433)
    Stories like this always make me wonder whether the people involved actually decoded the signals firing off in that guy's brain. I thinks it's more likely he learned to create the signals they were looking for.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      TFA describes a bit of a learning curve for the kid, so I'd say you're right. But the point is that the interface is feasible. I imagine anyone getting a new robotic limb would have to learn to use it, just like you have to learn to use your own limbs. The neat thing is that he was able to learn to create these signals very quickly with some degree of fine control. THe human brain is actually a very adaptable thing, even for older folks, as evidenced by the psychologist (I think) who had special glasses
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) * on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:48PM (#16379745)
      Of course. How do you think you learned to manipulate objects with your hands? It's called "biofeedback."

    • I'm not sure it matters whether they figured it out or the kid did. The end result is the same, is it not?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It was way simpler than that.

      They isolated which section of his brian was activated when he moved his tounge and hand. It sounds like the same sections fire when you just think about performing the actions.

      I bet the reason they used the tounge and hand rather then left hand\right hand is because they don't have the resolution on the grid to be able to differentiate the two.

      What I worry about is the long term effects of purposely sending "interrupt" signals to your body parts. Has this ever been studied befo
      • by Doctor Memory ( 6336 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:29PM (#16380421)
        What I worry about is the long term effects of purposely sending "interrupt" signals to your body parts. Has this ever been studied before?
        Google for "blue balls"...
      • What I worry about is the long term effects of purposely sending "interrupt" signals to your body parts. Has this ever been studied before?
        Heh... with the right signal I bet you could even trigger a core dump, literally...
      • I bet the reason they used the tounge and hand rather then left hand\right hand is because they don't have the resolution on the grid to be able to differentiate the two.

        It's not clear from TFA whether information from tongue & hand were aggregated or were independent sources of control. But the reason you would use these two effectors is because there is a disproportionate amount of cortical surface devoted to the tongue and hand (because of the fine control we have over them). Left and right hand

    • It's not one or the other. The computer surely decodes some aspect of the signal (average firing rate, or something like that) and the person would fine tune his control based on feedback.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SkyFire360 ( 889512 )

      We used the program BCI2000 for this task. This program allows us to sample 16 specific electrodes at a rate of 1200 hz, attaining frequencies up to 600hz. By reading data from calibration tests, we can then select the best electrodes that have the highest r^2 value for use with controlling it. I believe we're currently using a form of ICA for the signal analisys and we may move to something mroe complicated in the near future, but I'm the programmer on the team and not the electrical engineer. :)
  • Wasn't the PS2 supposed to do this? i remember Kaz Harai saying it would be like the matrix.. today! I guess i will have to wait for the Ps3 super computer..
    • Re:Ps2 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:39PM (#16379577) Journal
      Wasn't the PS2 supposed to do this?
      I know that PS2s have been hooked into neuro-feedback systems designed to do this.

      "Smart BrainGames" []

      It's for AD(H)D kids & the example I remember was Burnout. Your brain waves controlled the accelerator. When you lost focus, you started slowing down (losing) when your brain waves were doing what the doctors wanted, you kept going full speed.

      Your Brain + PS2 = behavioral therapy
      • There have been several studies to do this with EEG (surface based electrodes). What is new here is that the electrodes are implanted into the brain, so the signal is much better (it doesnt have to diffuse through the scalp). The EEG cursor control studies Ive read did not achieve the kind of control this kid is showing even with extensive practice.
  • As if playing videogames wasn't sedentary enough.
  • Can nobody else see he is using his left hand to move a mouse and his right hand just distracts you...
  • I was wondering why an epileptic patient - one seizure and from you clear the board? From TFA is sounds like this happened in the spare time they were waiting for a seizure to happen and they had him wired anyway - good example of either dovetailing or serendipity.
    • by rdwald ( 831442 )
      This is dovetailing. Epileptic patients are the only humans you can ethically insert brain probes into nowadays, so neuroscientists love to use these patients to test various theories of direct neural measurement and response. Basically every time you hear a news story about scientists reading people's minds with direct measurement, you should think, "At least they can't read my mind. I'm not epileptic."
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SkyFire360 ( 889512 )
      Anyone who's doing BME research runs into ethical issues, and our lab is no exception. Ethically we cannot implant electrodes into a perfectly healthy human in vitro. The risks of risks far outweigh the benefits. However if we can help epileptic patients while doing research, we can aid in the healing of the patient while getting data at the same time.
  • Dang. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:33PM (#16379475)
    That means the Nintendo Wii is out-of-date already. *sigh*
  • by popo ( 107611 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:35PM (#16379509) Homepage
    Last time I checked, space invaders was 1 dimensional movement not two.
    • by oc255 ( 218044 )
      When you fire, the bullet goes up the Y. Does that count? :P
    • by MankyD ( 567984 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:50PM (#16379771) Homepage
      One dimensional in a purely mathematical sense, yes. However, to the mind, moving left and moving right are two separate actions. In that sense, you might be able to get away with calling it 2D (not to mention the fact that they also added the ability to fire - a 3rd action.)
      • by MacJedi ( 173 )

        One dimensional in a purely mathematical sense, yes. However, to the mind, moving left and moving right are two separate actions. In that sense, you might be able to get away with calling it 2D

        You can think this if you want, but you would still be wrong. Moving left and right in space invaders is one degree-of-freedom, pure and simple. No matter how many "actions" the brain needs to construct to perform it, it's not 2-D. Also, it's not clear from TFA how firing the cannon was controlled-- it may have just

      • Super Mario Bros. is usually called two dimensional, yet you have left, right, up, down, and shoot (fireballs). So by your logic, SMB is 5 dimensions, and Super Mario Galaxy will be what, 8,543 dimensions?

        • I'd say that's about right as long as you look at it is Dimensions of gameplay and not Dimensions of relational space. Of course it could just be the cold/sinus medication talking.
  • If we add ergonomical chairs to it too, it will mean a stress free gaming.

    Total pWnAge for the powergamers !

    Little curious as to how they will manage tons of macros, inventory, skills and shit but im sure theyll proabably be the first group in the society to be the officially confirmed telepaths/telekinesists.
    • You wouldn't need macros as they're only required to avoid pressing a shitload of keys, now you can imagine healing everyone in the raid below a certain health and it will happen - just like the magic it's supposed to be.
  • After analyzing the action potentials created when a neuron fires, they were able to get two-dimensional control of a cursor.

    EEG, does not read action potentials, rather it reads synaptic input into the cortex not output from the cortex. The news article has this backwards.

    • This was not EEG. It was ECoG - electrodes on the cortex itself. You can record spikes with this technology. It's not clear from the article how this was set up or what parameter was feeding into the control mechanism, but it certainly would have been possible for them to use spike frequency.
  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @12:38PM (#16379559)
    Not close to the same but a few years ago I bought a used Zenith TV with built in Pong. Great deal, but it didn't have the controllers. Rather than build them right, my brother and I stuck stereo wire into the controller ports and held the bare wire ends in our hands. By carefully squeezing and releasing we could alter the resistance through our bodies (ok, it was altering the contact resistance mostly). We didn't have much problem playing but the method was so sensitive that we had to sit completely motionless without talking. We looked like a couple of zombies playing Pong with our minds. Too bad the TV fried itself in 3 weeks.
  • Invasive technique (Score:2, Interesting)

    by skorch ( 906936 )
    I'm not too sure but the article seems to say that this method still requires invasive (i.e. surgical) techniques to extract the brain signals used to interface with the system. It did suggest that using EEG as a non-invasive alternative for getting those same signals, but I don't think they elaborated on why they didn't use it (I don't know much about either technique, so if someone more informed could enlighten me). I'm just wondering if there is a possibility of a cost-effective "thinking-cap" of some so
  • Speaking as the father of one...
  • I can't help but think about this /. article when I read about people controlling computer games with people's minds:

    Stealth Sharks to Patrol the High Seas []

    So we can use our minds to control computers. And we can use computers to control the motor functions-- and utilize certain sensory faculties-- of certain animals. Both articles explain that even though these are both very exciting projects, they are also rather distant from any kind of supremely complex operation that would prove worrisome.

    So I u
    • by 3278 ( 1011735 )
      > Would someone who knows more about the science behind these projects explain why we're oh-so-far from someone putting a nanocomputer in my head and playing me like a video game to patrol the streets of New York City remotely? We're not. Probably within your lifetime, depending on your age, and how often you step in front of busses.
  • Imagine the possibilities, and/or the problems, with force feedback. Virtual reality would have nothing on that!
  • was their research into erectile dysfunction therapy and Atari 2600 games. Adventure worked pretty well, but Freeway was problematic.
  • He should totally duke it out with Kevin Warwick deathmatch style.
  • When I was a kid I used to be able to finish Super Mario Bros on the nintendo playing with my feet! Of course, I was using one of these [].
  • There's one thing I don't quite get, from TFA, they put an emphasis on how he's playing a two-dimensional game. Right, Space Invaders is display two dimensionally, however the player movements are one dimensional, but then they say, "We then gave him a more challenging version in two-dimensions and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination". What the hell does it mean?

    Oh and in case it allows people to control a cursor on the screen, I'd love to see at work on the basic everyday life mo

  • by cobrajs ( 882891 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:05PM (#16380049)
    With this new system I developed, I can play games with brain signals! I send a brain signal to my finger to press the correct key, and presto! The avatar moves!
  • by Channard ( 693317 ) on Tuesday October 10, 2006 @01:07PM (#16380069) Journal
    I guess we'll hear teens talking on X-Box Live about their bitchin' new brain cylinders next.
  • from the article:

    The boy, a 14-year-old who suffers from epilepsy, is the first teenager to play a two-dimensional video game, Space Invaders, using only the signals from his brain to make movements.

    Don't video games all come with warnings about epilepsy?
  • I'm convinced from playing on public BF1942 servers that, for most players, no brain usage is involved.
  • Hey what a great idea! Let's strap a kid that suffers from epileptic seizures in front of a video game. Let's hope he's not suffering from Photosensitive Epilepsy []
  • I had to snicker at how TFA had to invest a few paragraphs to fully describe Space Invaders for those young-uns who may not even have heard of it. A screenshot may have helped.

    Oh, btw - "Atari" was a home video game system. It's on Wikipedia. No, really - go look it up...
  • It's all nice and all but can you use it with linux and control xwindows?

    On more serious note, I am more interested in the ability to send audio, video, data or any signals back to the brain. This would be more useful in stomping out handicaps.
  • This kind of story comes up every once in a while like it is some sort of break through in technology, yet I remember sitting in a small conference room of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in 1993 listening to some guy talk about monitoring alpha waves in the brain and using that feedback to move a cursor.
  • Some months ago, a friend and me participated in an experiment conducted by the TU Graz - we were wired, took some calibration tests and were finally able to play Pong against each other - only with wired caps on our heads. It sort of worked, but was difficult to control without a proper training period.It worked by comparing our brain waves while thinking of moving our left or right arm and mapping the characteristic output to left-right commands. Sometimes it would work quite well but a lot of times the p
  • No, really. I have. In fact, this is not very uncommon, the only difference here is that the EEG was used to control an ATARI, instead of pre-written (for the EEG) PC games. I used to do Neuro-feedback therepy, which mostly consisted of sitting in a chair, and controlling various objects on screen. Most of them were simple things like getting a ball on a teeter-totter to move back and forth (which I could finally do). The theory is that once a person learns to subconciously change their own brainwave patter

  • While this an interesting development, a less invasive approach is in the works to help disabled people use computers in the near term. An electro-oculographic cursor control system from Boston College called Eagle Eyes [] will start selling for $1,200 each in early 2007.

    The Opportunity Foundation of America [] is working with them to promote and subsidize the cost of the units to as little as a $200 donation. Such a system will fill a much needed niche for communication and education systems for people with
  • The Lambda Driver requires massive electrical power, as well as a human operator . The human operator must be emitting brain waves in the 30 - 40 Hz range, known as Gamma Waves. These waves are emitted under intense concentration, or by the use of certain psychoactive drugs of extremely specialised manufacture. The system also produces a tremendous amount of waste heat as it experiences load. Observed failures of the lambda driver have been heat overloads caused by damage to the cooling system, or overloadi

  • by weisen ( 461536 )
    This is not measuring the action potential caused by the firing of a single neuron, as the writeup seems to indicate. This is measuring the aggregate signal from tens of thousands of neurons. The typical recording grid is a flexible material (silicone?) with a grid of circular electrodes about 5mm in diameter. The surgeon can place the grid on the cortical surface or cut off a strip and push it into a sulcus. Clearly not a single-cell recording.
  • Neurofeedback. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aumshantih ( 1011897 )
    Namaste. I've been working as the systems administrator at the Neurodevelopment Center in Providence, RI. We're a psychological clinic focusing on using EEG-controlled neurofeedback to treat a whole bunch of psychiatric disorders, mostly things on the autistic spectrum and various forms of ADHD. The technology is still very new, and probably not quite as effective as one could hope, but we still get very good results - around 70% of our clients show significant improvement. Brain-Machine interfaces will
  • Or was the Atari 2600 controlling him?
  • I need a mod point - did I mod this thread?
  • Just check the literature on Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI): this has been done 10 years ago. It has even been done in MRI scanners: check this []

Trap full -- please empty.