Your Brain as the Ultimate Universal Remote Control?

It was stupidly simple, but sometimes the most amazing demonstrations are. After stumbling upon the BodyWave booth in the Eureka Park section of the Venetian at 2013 CES, I watched a somewhat groggy attendee sit down and drive a virtual forklift across a computer screen just by holding on to a computer-game steering wheel with both hands. No big deal, right? Actually, yes. In this case, the steering wheel wasn’t connected to the computer – in any normal sense, anyway – and the guy behind the wheel wasn’t moving his hands at all. In fact, he was told to just sit there and concentrate on the screen; and when he did, the forklift eerily began to move forward and pick up its load. When the presenter poked the man in the arm to distract him, the forklift skidded to a halt. (Well, it didn’t really skid to a halt. It simply stopped moving.) Once the now-undisturbed driver was allowed to concentrate on the screen, the intrepid forklift resumed its progress across the screen and deposited its load on the far side.

The non-working steering wheel, it turns out, was a convenient prop that incorporated a trio of BodyWave sensors on the back. When a person placed his/her hands on the steering wheel and made physical contact, the sensors immediately detected the minute signals of brainwave activity that propagate through a person’s body. Rather than any spatial movement of the steering wheel, it was the brainwave patterns that were transmitted to a computer where the information was interpreted by a special algorithm developed by Freer Logic. When said algorithm determined the subject was focusing on moving the forklift, it responded as any game controller would and moved the forklift on the screen.

Controlling games or toys with your mind isn’t new. NeuroSky, for example, has several consumer-friendly, DIY-hackable devices – including the MindWave Mobile, which NeuroSky claims is “the world’s first comprehensive brainwave-reading device for iOS and Android platforms” – and has been active in licensing the technology, as well. NeuroSky also makes the somewhat bizarre Necomimi wiggling cat-like ears (or Devilish Horns) that you wear on your head allowing you to “show how interested or relaxed you are in real-time.” But these products all require the use of a headset. One of the things that makes BodyWave unique is the fact that no headset is required. According to Freer Logic:

BodyWave reads brain activity through the human body, not by intrusive headsets and wires like technologies of the past, but via a uniquely innovative brainwave monitor that attaches to the arm or leg. In the past, brainwave monitoring devices required awkward or invasive attachment to the head. BodyWave’s patented design monitors the brain’s physiologic signal through the body. Dry sensors acquire brain signal and transfer it wirelessly to a PC. When BodyWave is used with Freer Logic’s 3D computer simulations, it can activate and deactivate those computer simulations by mind alone. It can also teach stress control, increase attention, and facilitate peak performance.

Here’s a brief promo video from Freer Logic that provides a nice visual of how the process works.

Until recently, Freer Logic has concentrated on providing applications for professional/industrial use – catering to a variety of clients, including NASA (to test the attention of pilots during supersonic flight simulation), NASCAR (to help pit crews learn to be in a peak performance state while spinning lug nuts and other activities), the US Women’s Bobsled team (to maintain a peak state by controlling a 3D bobsled run by mind alone), and the US military. Freer Logic’s Play Attention system uses BodyWave technology to help teach children with ADHD to better focus in learning environments. The current BodyWave system is available to the general public “for general cognitive enhancement use” for $1,795, which includes a wearable BodyWave armband with embedded sensors, full training, and access to Freer Logic’s PC applications.

For me, though, what’s really exciting is Freer Logic’s push to expand the use of BodyWave technology into more day-to-day consumer items, such as BodyWave control of HDTVs, apps in smartphones, and you name it. By the end of the year, the company plans on introducing a much smaller, less obtrusive – and, I assume, more affordable – wearable wrist monitor. The possibilities, of course, are myriad. Imagine wearing a simple wristwatch-style monitor and being to simply “think” the garage door to open as you pull into the driveway. Another thought, and the door unlocks. Then the lights turn on.

For years, companies have been trying to adapt voice recognition systems to operate anything from a simple TV remote control to the VOCO wireless multiroom music system to HouseLogix’s VoicePod integration into a full-blown Control4 whole-house automation system. All of these efforts have met with varying levels of success (with the VoicePod being the best I’ve seen to date). But they’ll all be the Betamax of control systems if Freer Logic can succeed in bringing reliable mind control of consumer devices to the masses.

By the way, if you’re still baffled by the concept of mind-controlled cat ears, this won’t help make it any easier to understand…