Thought control: from labs to games

May 18, 2023

Now that you've made a general idea on Gaming with Brain-Computer Interfaces, let's go through one of the most useful and spectacular paradigm.

Pay attention and you'll see us mentioning a new type of Gamer: the one that doesn't use fingers, joysticks and can't use cheat codes.

Let's roll.

Imagined movements (Motor Imagery)

Have you ever wondered how your body moves? In short and very simple: a region called the Motor Cortex in the brain contains neurons that fire signals that reach the nerves in your muscles, thus making them contract and combine together in a fabulously orchestrated movement. The system is much more complex: it contains balance feedback, visual feedback, tactile feedback and much more.

The brain magic though is that only imagining a movement will also create a very similar electrical pattern inside the Motor Cortex, even if it doesn't end up activating any muscles.

You probably have a good intuition already on the medical use-cases this technology enables. With the help of our friend Sam Hosovsky, who recently made a round-up of the movements that can be detected for patients, let's gain more knowledge about what has been achieved inside laboratories:

  • What kind of movement? At least 32 kinds of movements of wrists and ankles, in real-time, with high accuracy (read more here);
NeuralEcho Labs | Imagined movement with invasive BCI
Imagined movement for wrists and ankles simulation
  • How natural is the simulated motion? Implants in the brain and a paralysed arm were used to accurately reproduce standard movements (read more here);
NeuralEcho Labs | Imagined movement with invasive BCI
Imagined movement for natural arm movement
  • Can detailed finger movements be simulated? Short answer: yes, for both humans and monkeys (read more here);
NeuralEcho Labs | Imagined movement with invasive BCI
Imagined movement for detailed finger movements
  • So how detailed can it get? The movement of 100 muscles involved in speech has been correctly simulated so that the patient was able to converse again (read more here);
NeuralEcho Labs | Imagined movement with invasive BCI
Imagined speech apparatus movement for communication

One thing to note, all of the above experiments were made by Blackrock Neurotech. Impressive, right?

We'll get back to Sam and tell you more about the amazing things he's doing in a bit.

Now let's see how all of this applies to Gaming control through imagined movements.

Gaming through Imagined Movements

We clearly have to take a step back and bring the invasive technology into the non-invasive realm. We won't promote surgery for Gaming.

Even more, let's transform the standard electrodes, which normally need gels, an extra person to equip and a 30 minutes pre-game routine, into dry, flexible, comfortable electrodes.

NeuralEcho Labs | Soft Dry Electrodes example
Soft Dry Electrodes - a mini-rubber brush for your thoughts

Now we're talking.

We have small, soft rubber brushes which sit on your head, go through your hair and come in contact with your skin simply by putting on a headset.

All by yourself, just like you'd prepare for a VR session.

Current latency: what do we do about it?

One big down-side of imagined movements is that, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, they have a problem with latency. The way we're detecting, combining and processing current signals from the brain wasn't made with speed efficiency in mind.

We're talking here of a range between 0.5 and 1 seconds in some applications.

That's not useful for Gaming, is it?

What if we bring that down to about 200ms? The reaction time of a casual gamer is between 250ms-500ms. The pro-gamer: 150ms to 250ms.

NeuralEcho Labs | Average reaction time Human Benchmark
Human Benchmark website reaction time distribution

That would work, wouldn't it?

What if we bring it down even more? What if it's close to zero?

NeuralEcho Labs | Readiness Potential electrical pattern
Readiness Potential electrical pattern

Well, for a limited number of imagined movements that's possible. Particularly for non-reflex movements, there's a signal the brain produces even before the body would start moving.

Yes, that's next-level Gaming.

Current accuracy: what do we do about that?

As with every new technology, it takes a while to reach that sweet, reliable, wake-it-up-and-it-will-work state.

Imagined Movements and most other electrical patterns are currently perceived as challenging to stabilise and interpret consistently.

This depends on the user, as well as on the technology being used.

I wasn't great at imagining moving my hand consistently, just as I wasn't great at playing League of Legends spin-offs. It took me a few months to reach top 50 in a MOBA game in the UK.

That's a Gamer's life.

And a Gamer clearly needs the best technology to back their efforts up: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence algorithms are developing at a blistering pace: current accuracies reach 90%+, from around 80% just a few years ago. Other challenges, like robustness between Gamers - since we all have unique minds - are currently being tackled successfully thanks to the progress in AI.

What else is there to do something about?

It's a new technology. We're discovering amazing use-cases every day, metaphorically speaking. But it happens often enough, and each of those discoveries comes with its implementation challenges.

Overall, there's only excitement to be truly passionate and serious about.

There is one thing, however: Neurogaming, or Gaming with Brain-Computer Interfaces, is creating a new type of gamer.

A gamer who maybe doesn't have the thumb speed equivalent of Usain Bolt, playing games that don't have cheat codes.

The new type of Gamer.
NeuralEcho Labs | A new type of Gamer: The Neurogamer
The Neurogamer

That player reaches new heights with the power of their thought. That player wins their game by growing to be mentally fast and developing a strong mind.

Can you imagine how that future looks?

If you can, you're likely already a Neurogamer with an amazing potential.

This is BCI Gaming.

Back to Sam

Sam Hosovsky is leading uCat - a startup that's working on improving the lives of patients who can't communicate. They're doing that by combining Virtual Reality with advancements from the laboratories in speech reproduction through Brain-Computer Interfaces. It's amazing.

His Imagined Movements round-up series ends with the interview of Ian Burkhart - a larger than life person who has been paralysed, only to become part of numerous advancements and tests in the field of Brain-Computer Interfaces - listen to it here.

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