Wrap Your Brain Around a Game With Emotiv's Epoc

Emotiv Epoc

I'd hate to think Emotiv's Epoc neuro-technology interface, which mounted up looks a bit like a head crab pretending to be a bunch of hair berets, is just another loopy venture capital stab premised on immature science, but then I'm pretty cynical about this stuff. I've tried one too many abysmal stabs in the dark over the years, each of them claiming to give you mental control of something in virtual space by reading electrical (brain, electromagnetic body field, etc.) activity. None, of course, delivered even a fraction of their promise.

Enter Epoc, a brain-interface for video games, focus testing, do-it-yourself jedi skillz, and who knows what else. It rests on your head, uses 14 saline sensors "for accurate spatial resolution," employs a gyroscope for cursor and camera controls, runs on a 12-hour rechargeable battery, and communicates wirelessly to a USB dongle. All that, just to let you levitate a rock and make snarly faces at your TV:

Emotiv's official product website for the Epoc pulls out the stops, provoking viewers to "Fulfill the fantasy of having supernatural powers and controlling the world with your mind!" It's all a little silly-sounding, which is why I'm not in marketing, because frankly my instinct would be to sell the thing on the basis of the hard science, as opposed to bullet points like "wield amazing supernatural powers just by thinking of them."

Make what you will of it. I'm not saying it doesn't work, just that I'm almost pathologically skeptical when it comes to brainwave "interfaces," given how precious little the world's foremost experts understand about our neuron-laced control centers.

In the mid-1990s, GameStop (nee Neostar) rolled a bunch of "brain interface" arcade skiing machines out to select stores. Apparently someone threw a bunch of money at the company to do a trial run. I don't remember the name of the developer behind the whole thing, but the idea was simple enough: Use your brain to "think" left or right and avoid obstacles while skiing down an icy mountain slope. You'd put your finger on a metal sensor, the ski simulation would start, and you'd imagine shifting left or right as obstacles presented themselves. It didn't work, of course--not even a little--but the visual depiction of a snow-capped mountain pitch sure was pretty.

The Epoc isn't that, as far as I can tell--it's much more sophisticated and explicit in terms of what it measures and processes. But given the lack of precision control (per Emotiv's own demo videos), the steep retail price tag ($300), lack of compelling apps, and the underlying question of whether zero-feedback interfaces are as satisfying as tactile ones, I wonder if the company hasn't spent its research-to-retail money a decade or two early.

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