After Facebook bought Oculus Rift this year, neurogaming is garnering a lot of attention, but is it worth yours?
Depending on how you see it, neurogaming may be the obvious next step in the development of gaming, or else a sort of inadvertent April Fool set in motion by a cluster of new and recent technological possibilities.
There’s certainly an increasingly widespread belief in the potential of games experiences that immerse users at a sensory level beyond anything we have yet seen, incorporating everything from bodysuits to frictionless treadmills to brain-reading headsets. Neurogaming even has its very own conference, NeuroGaming 2014, which staged its second edition in San Francisco earlier this month.
Elements of neurogaming are already in the mainstream, if we count platforms such as Microsoft Kinect or even Wii Fit. Meanwhile, two work-in-progress headsets, Google Glass and the record-breaker and recent $2bn Facebook acquisition Oculus Rift, appear to offer mainstream-bound platforms for new, immersive kinds of gameplay.
But is there more to the nebulous future possibilities of neurogaming than simply gesture-controlled devices or AR and VR headsets? A growing underground of true believers think so, and that a fusion of technologies will almost certainly be required. Brainwave-sensing technology, wearable biometric devices, eye-tracking and gestural and facial expression analysis are all gaining traction in all kinds of fields, and any and all of them could have a role to play at the sector’s cutting edge.
At this stage, we’re getting a sense of the cool things that can be achieved with a bit of hacking and mashing up. A few days ago, Dutch communications agency Quince Amsterdam built a Back To The Future II-style hoverboard experience from an Oculus Rift, a Kinect and a Wii Balance Board. It’s a bit crude, but you can see what they’re driving at (see the video above).
In this vein, we have a look at some of the devices and companies in the vanguard:
Oculus Rift and the VR/AR mainstream.
Oculus is generally held to be the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, having received more than 75,000 orders for Oculus Rift development kits on the strength of its explosive Kickstarter beginnings. A consumer version is expected late this year or early next, and along with Google Glass or Sony’s hotly-tipped work-in-progress headset Project Morpheus, it looks like a good place for neurogaming developers to start. Reports are also emerging that Samsung has already put its own Oculus Rift-style headset in the hands of selected developers, with the notion of driving the experience through the Korean manufacturer’s smartphone and tablet devices.
Another Kickstarter star, having completed its funding in March with $322,103 from a $75,000 goal, YEI Technology’s PrioVR is a full-body harness that tracks the movement of your limbs and torso and controls a character accordingly. It’s been described as ‘the virtual reality gaming suit of your dreams’, though presumably not everyone’s dreams have virtual reality gaming suits in them.
It’s easy to see, sometimes, why many people doubt the mainstream potential of neurogaming when it requires hardware as specialist as the Virtuix Omni. An ‘omnidirectional treadmill’, the Omni looks a bit like a particularly brutal baby activity centre, with a low-friction platform you pad about on, a ring around the waist and a safety harness to absorb your weight. Clearly, it’s designed for pacing edgily around virtual labyrinths and other battle zones, and they’ve sold 3,000 of them, though they’ve not shipped them yet:
CastAR – alternative reality headset
Not everyone accepts the premise that Google and Oculus have aready won the war of the headsets. CastAR – yes, another Kickstarter project – is a projected virtual reality device which allows you to beam 3D-style holographic images from two micro-projectors built into a pair of goggles and interact with them using wands and controllers.
Sony Magic Lab
Last November, Sony Magic Lab and Germany company SensoMotoric Instruments revealed a joint initiative to build eye-tracking technology into PS4 games, meaning you may be soon able to aim a gun or steer a camera, for instance, using only your gaze. In fact, at NeuroGaming 2014, Sony showed off a development version of Infamous: Second Son that uses eye-tracking to do the latter.
Designed to be used with the Oculus Rift, Barcelona-based Neuroelectrics’ Starstim transcranial current brain simulator is among the most interesting of a number of brain-scanning and brain-stimulating headsets. With the stretchy cap strapped to your head, you could control a laptop with your eyes, it’s said, and so obviously, as well as the trifling games market, there are numerous applications from sleep therapy to the study of degenerative neurological conditions.
Another brain-computer interface based on based on electroencephalography (EEG) technology, Emotiv again has gaming applications, but also far more meaningful ones in health and brain fitness that make too much discussion of thought-controlled games feel a bit shallow. The Australian company’s core product, the Emotiv Insight, is, of course, a Kickstarter millionaire, and is going down the personal analytics and brain fitness route that may yet prove the killer neurogaming app: