Brain Games: Move Objects With Your Mind To Find Inner Calm? : All Tech Considered "Hands-free" is taking on a new meaning. Games hitting the market use EEGs so you can move a toy helicopter with your mind or play the brain like a musical instrument. It's the stuff of sci-fi movies, but potentially with an added health benefit.
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Brain Games: Move Objects With Your Mind To Find Inner Calm?

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Brain Games: Move Objects With Your Mind To Find Inner Calm?


I'm looking at a headline from The Onion. A man watching football is pictured. The headline is: Defense Needs to Be More Physical, Reports Man Slumped on Couch for Past Five Hours. Well, if you're a couch potato, new devices on the market will allow you to use even less physical effort. That's thanks to high tech headgear that allows people to control objects with their minds. Amy Standen of KQED reports makers of these products say the idea is to train ourselves to become more focused.

JOHNNY LIU: OK. So this is the Mindwave Mobile.

AMY STANDEN, BYLINE: Johnny Liu, from the San Jose company Neurosky is holding up an EEG headset. EEG is short for electro encephalogram and it picks up patterns in the brain's electrical activity - like what happens during sleep, or an epileptic seizure. And some other things too.

LIU: How focused somebody is, how calm and relaxed somebody is.

STANDEN: In recent years, these headsets have gotten cheaper and easier to use. The Mindwave Mobile costs about a hundred dollars. And that opens up the possibility of connecting EEG headsets to consumer gadgets. Like the one Liu brought with him today. It's a toy called the Orbit Brain Controlled Helicopter - which pretty much describes it. It's about eight inches wide, with three small propellers. Liu straps on his headset and tries it out.

LIU: So I'm driving up my attention level past a certain point.

STANDEN: The more he concentrates, the higher the helicopter soars.


LIU: And that will allow the helicopter...

STANDEN: And then crashes onto my face.

LIU: I'm so sorry.

STANDEN: Next, I'm up. Liu tells me to focus on the helicopter.

LIU: As if you actually had these had these telekinetic powers.

STANDEN: Which I clearly don't. It's not really working, is it? OK.

LIU: ...all the way.

STANDEN: You can't get frustrated with the helicopter because that's different from concentration. What works is to focus on just one thing, really concentrate on it. This amplifies what are called beta waves inside the brain, which are picked up by the EEG which in turn flies the helicopter.


STANDEN: In my case, for about three seconds. There's another EEG gadget that works better, at least on the radio.


RICHARD WARP: The beat is quite fast because I'm quite sort of excited.

STANDEN: This is composer and inventor Richard Warp. And he designed a program called Neurodisco. It also connects to an EEG headset. But instead of flying a helicopter, a Neurodisco translates brain electrical patterns into music.


STANDEN: At first the beat is heavy and the notes are kind of all over the place. But as Warp focuses his mind, the beat sort of recedes in the background. The notes are closer together, more shimmery. As with the helicopter, the idea here is to reach a deep meditative state. Warp says he's always been an anxious person. He wanted to feel more grounded. And that's part of what led him to work on this project.

WARP: I personally find it somewhat difficult to get into a relaxed state. What I was interested in doing is to create an environment where people can really commune with their internal state.

STANDEN: Commune with an internal state. You hear that kind of thing a lot in this industry. And at this, even Richard Warp has to laugh, because is more technology really the thing we need to help us relax?

WARP: You're doing the same thing as a meditator, a Buddhist monk might do. It's just we in the West maybe need a device to do it.

STANDEN: And it's true. You can't just tell everyone to go meditate.

ADAM GAZZALEY: A lot of people don't have access to that or they find it very difficult.

STANDEN: Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at University of California San Francisco, says you can even imagine EEG games one day helping kids with attention problems learn to focus better.

GAZZALEY: They put on a mobile EEG cap that helps guide the game so that it's challenging those processes that need the most help.

STANDEN: Technology helped get us into this mess, maybe technology can help get us out. For NPR News, I'm Amy Standen in San Francisco.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.


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