June 6, 2007 It is perhaps the most sought after technological goal in the digital age, an interface that will allow you to throw away the humble keyboard and mouse and take control of your computer by simply thinking. The latest foray into this rapidly evolving field is the Neural Impulse Actuator, a gaming interface prototype unveiled at Computex 2007 that reads brain signals instead of keyboard strokes to provide a hands-free computer control.
Destined to radically transform gaming platforms, the prototype from OCZ enables up to 11 signals from an actuator worn around the forehead to be assigned to a specific keystroke or mouse button.
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The actuator takes its cues from neural signals based on permutations of brain, eye, and facial muscle activity via three sensor pads that rest on the forehead of the user. It takes only minutes to "train" the device which could be on the market as soon as the end of the year.
The product is part of a push towards the full integration of nerve activity into controlling personal computer and and follows several developments including the BCI kit from German group g.tec. Much of the initial research into this field has a more profound objective than just creating a mind-blowing gaming experience (not that there's anything wrong with that!). For example the "mental-typewriter" demonstrated at CeBIT in Berlin in 2006 was designed to demonstrate how a paralyzed patient could communicate by using a brain-computer interface without touching the keyboard, a development that would dramatically enhance the lives of many people.
This research has also been at the forefront of developing implantable devices that produce a reliable and less obtrusive interface between brain and computer. These devices such as the BrainGate project from American company Cyberkinetics also point to a future where human augmentation will be commonly employed and the lines between computer circuitry and human biology will be further blurred.
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I must admit, I had my doubts as to how effective this device would be - and specifically thought of first-person shooter nuts fighting with the controls for a minute or two before running back to the safety of their honed keyboard and mouse skills. After checking out the video, featuring someone fairly accurately navigating a character through a twitchy shooter (when the cameraman isn't distracting him) I'm just eager to try this for myself. Here's hoping OCZ have plans to liberate us from the mouse entirely in the near future - it might be accurate for gaming, but the workplace would be a better place without them.