The mind-reading headset that controls a helicopter

10 Jan 2013

A few years ago -- before I even joined PC Pro -- I was at a German tech show, and came across a mind-reading computing system. Stick some sensors on your head, focus on a letter  and it would display it on a screen, allowing disabled people to communicate.

Fast forward three years and shift the scene to Las Vegas, and the idea's been commoditised -- which is a fancy way of saying there's a stand here at CES that has mind-reading cat ears.

NeuroSky's hardware measures EEG brainwaves in real-time via a headset, which has one sensor on the forehead and another that clips to the ear. The readings are 97% medically accurate, the company claimed. They don't need to be perfect, as all it does is examine relaxation states and use that data for "meditation and focus" apps as well as toys, such as a rather cool Star Wars-themed "Use the Force" game and a flying helicopter (more on that later).

The other purpose NeuroSky has found for its brainwave-reading technology is the $99 Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears. The ears are attached to the NeuroSky headset, and "perk up", wiggle, or droop depending on whether the wearer is focused, in "the zone" or relaxed.

On one hand, this is a sign that we've come so far with technology that we can abuse medical analysis tools, processing power, and everything else to have cat ears wiggle on our heads. On the other hand, I can exclusively reveal that wearing furry, rotating cat ears on a crowded showfloor doesn't leave one feeling relaxed or focused. (Don't judge me, of course I had to try them.)

Another firm, PuzzleBox Orbit, makes use of the brainwave reading hardware to fly a helicopter. Focus in the right way, and the helicopter flies upward; lose your focus, and the toy falls out of the sky. The helicopter itself is wrapped in a protective sphere, as the $139 gadget is clearly going to be hitting the ground with some frequency.

It's all a bit of fun, but the makers and NeuroSky say such products can help teach children, especially those with ADD and ADHD, how to concentrate properly. One piece of software, WujiBrainwave, has even been rolled out by schools in Hawaii, and games have been created around the idea of increasing concentration -- however, no-one has yet used the cat ears to track whether students are paying attention. Ears to the front, class.

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