One aspect of Star Wars is already part of our present: the Force. Amazing as it sounds, you can move things with your mind—provided you have the right gear. For instance, toy maker Uncle Milton makes a $129 gadget called Star Wars Trainer. The Trainer looks like the floating ping pong ball test from The Right Stuff, except you make the ball float using your brain waves. Futuristic-looking headgear turns your electrical alpha and beta waves into wireless impulses. These impulses are translated by algorithms into action, in this case operating the fan at the base of the tube, which floats and spins the ping pong ball.
Another game, Mattel’s MindFlex ($79), uses your brain to move a foam ball around an obstacle course. A follow-up game, MindFlex Duel ($99; coming in August), will allow two minds to compete against each other.
Though these games don’t allow you to complete everyday tasks with your mindpower, they actually work. And they are based on real, decades-long neuroscientific research that promises far more real-world mind control applications.
The engine behind the Star Wars Trainer and MindFlex games is called ThinkGear. Created by brainwave sensor company NeuroSky, it uses algorithms that translate brainwaves into measurable information which games and applications can analyze and use to execute various actions.
Future applications could be mind control over wheelchairs for those whose minds are trapped in non-functional bodies, training ADHD children to concentrate and perhaps wean them off medication, and cars equipped with sensors that detect when you are falling asleep and automatically pull the car over before you nod off into a fatal accident.
The same brain wave algorithm technology is at the heart of multi-million human-machine interface research at Intel, working with Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. But instead of physical activity, the goal of Intel’s Neural Computing Initiative (NCI) is essentially to create a brain wave dictionary. According to group leader Dean Pomerleau, your brain’s electrical signals or impulses actually represent concepts or things, regardless of language. If you see a cow, for instance, your brain generates an electrical signal that means “cow.”
Intel is using an array of scanners—EEG (electroencephalography), fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and MEG (magnetoencephalography)—to map and decode the brain’s electrical neuron activity.
According to Pomerleau, the research is still exploratory but already indicates that thought-based device user interfaces are not as far-fetched as one might think.
Until then, you can at least make a ping pong ball float.