The telepathy device you were looking for (or not)
To Geeks like me, phones and tablets are our bread and butter, but our love for tech is by no means limited to them. So imagine our excitement when we got the opportunity to test a gadget which reads your thoughts and allows you to do cool things with it on your computer.
The gadget in question is called EPOC and is made by Emotiv. It’s a futuristic looking headset, which reads your brain activity via the scalp of your head and translates it into various actions. With that in mind, I was particularly excited with Professor Xavier and his powerful telepathic powers immediately popping into my head. Sadly, this isn’t the case… yet.
The Epoc is a neuro-signal acquisition and processing wireless headset. It uses 16 sensors to capture the electric signals produced by your brain. Put simply, it’s a thought detector. But alongside this, it’s also a feelings and expressions grabber, so if you blink, smile or sneeze – it’ll know. Let’s take a closer look at the product itself.
Emotive has packed the EPOC headset in a handy box sporting a minimalist design. It has a handle on top so you can easily carry the headset around. Emotive has thrown in everything you need to get started, which is kind of them, as chances are you don’t have the accessories just laying around your house.
Back to the contents of the box at hand, inside there’s a 16-pack of contact pads, which are placed in sockets on the headset to make contact with your head. To improve the signal strength there’s also a bottle of conductive liquid to keep those sensors hydrated. There’s also a USB receiver to connect with a computer, as well as a miniUSB cable and an instructions manual with a software CD.
Design and construction
The Epoc headset is entirely made of plastic has a base similar to a regular pair of headphones. Where it differs are the two octopus arm-like extensions which warp around your head. They are flexible in order to get the best possible contact and at the end have sockets for the soft contact pads. At the top, there’s a switch for turning the headset on or off.
Emotiv have designed a specialized software, which shows the EPOC’s capabilities. It’s broken down to five different sections:
The first one acts as a status check for all the contact pads. They light in four different colors: green for great connection, yellow of okay-ish connection, red for bad connection and black for no connection at all. Preferably, they should all light up green, but we’ve had cases where the headset worked perfectly fine despite a few red or yellow sensors.
However, when I tried it everything went green and I felt like a Jedi summoned to protect the universe from the Dark side and bring balance to the Force. The other tabs really showed me what the neuroheadset is all about.
Called “Expressiv suite”, the second tab shows a blue face, which actually mimics the facial expressions that you are doing at the moment. So if you blink, it blinks. If you smile, it smiles, and so on.
Next up is the “Affectiv suite”. As its name suggests it detects what affects you at the moment and displays your current emotions on the screen. Those can be happiness, indifference, etc. It’s pretty cool to observe at first but you quickly get bored. Unlike it, the next tab labeled “Cognitiv suite” is where the meat is.
In the Cognitiv suite you get to control a virtual cube using just your thoughts. There are various operations that you can do with it like push it backwards/ pull it towards you, make it go up or down or even rotate it in various directions.
Here’s a video where we try to show the whole magic taking place. We first demonstrate how the software captures brainwaves and translates them into actions on the screen. Then, we get to the really interesting stuff – playing a game, where you control the main character with the headset.
Conclusion; The Emotiv EPOC will not turn you into a Jedi, but it’s a solid step into the future of doing everyday tasks with your mind. Imagine turning your PC on or off by just thinking about it, or pausing a movie when you need to grab some more snacks.
Let’s not forget the people with disabilities, who can use the full potential of a personal computer with nothing but their thoughts. This can and should rewrite the history of computer interaction, but unfortunately, the technology isn’t quite ready just yet.
For now, the Emotiv EPOC headset is little more than a gimmick. A nice gadget to show off to your friends and make them scratch their heads in disbelief, until they realize there’s little practical use for it. Its future however is much bigger than this or at least, that’s what we hope.