virtual reality Tag

I Think, Therefore I Game

mind control games

You’ve probably seen segments on programs like 60 Minutes that feature a disabled person with a bunch of electrodes attached to their head and shows how they can control a computer screen just by thinking about a letter of the alphabet or something like that. You might have even heard about using mind control for virtual reality gaming.

 

Recent articles in IEEE Spectrum, Wired, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere have made me realize mind-control gaming is closer than you might think—as in, it’s already here.

 

A company called Neurable (sounds like something out of a William Gibson novel) has created a game called Awakening where players can move and affect objects in a virtual environment just by concentrating on them. It works via a brain-scanning headband and related software that read and interpret EEG signals from the brain to control the gaming elements. The headband is compatible with existing VR headsets like the HTC Vive.

Neurable will be introducing Awakening in VR arcades throughout the world this year. While there are currently only a handful of these arcades in the U.S. and Europe, they’re already wildly popular in China and parts of East Asia.

 

There’s no doubt VR arcades will proliferate. I was impressed by both the size and scope of the Virtual Reality installation at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which I happened upon during CES 2018And there’s already a VR arcade called Virtual Realms near where I live on Long Island. (Lay that waiver and release form on me!) 

 

While mind-control games are just beginning to appear in arcades, it’s a sure bet they’ll soon enough become as commonplace at home as your TV’s remote control. Neurable isn’t alone. Other companies like Looxid Labs (which exhibited at CES 2018), Qneuro, and InteraXon are working on or have already demonstrated some type of brain/computer interface (or “BCI”). And games like Throw Trucks With Your Mind (I’d love to try that one!) have been shown at events like the Experiential Technology Conference & Expo in San Francisco. 

 

Heck, there’s already at least one discontinued BCI gameMindflex, produced by Mattel from 2009 to 2011, which purported to sense brain activity to control objects. (There was some question as to whether the headset actually measured brain activity or something like muscle activity instead.)

mind control games

True, the current mind-control games only let you do simple things like push numbers on a keypad, and it will probably take more advanced technology like brain implants to give you more control. But I’m confident BCI headsets will improve.

 

And here’s another wrinkle in mind: Consumer Reports says future games could change content based on a user’s mood. Imagine the possibilities: A game that could sense whether you wanted an apocalyptic zombie shootout after a bad day at work or a relaxing session of mind-control Tetris.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

CES Impressions 2018

CES 2018--Altered Carbon (Netflix)

I can now join the ranks of pretty much every journalist I talked to at CES who’s affirmed it’s become impossible to do a comprehensive show report. CES has gotten too big for any one human to cover it all.

 

Clearly, home entertainment AV products and manufacturers are no longer the focus, although exhibitors like Samsung, Sony, and other big guns were present, headphones and Bluetooth audio systems were abundant, and there was a floor or so’s worth (rather than a hotel’s worth as in years past) of high-end audio companies at the Venetian.

 

Much of what I saw and read about was all about “connectivity,” the Internet of Things, “smart” this and thatjeez, even Bluetooth hair-care systems and yadda yadda. Well, even though I’m a tech head, I don’t care about most of these things. I care about having an emotionally moving entertainment experienceand the products and technologies that can deliver it.

 

There were many times when this Baby Boomer felt alternately intimidated and overwhelmed by all the new tech, as opposed to being in my comfort zone attending AV-oriented shows like Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and CEDIA and checking out the high-end rooms at the Venetian. Perhaps CES by its very nature now presents a skewed picture of what’s really happening in home entertainment. The show used to be more representative of “our” world. Google “media room” and you’ll get about 1,230,000,000 results. That’s not a typo. So there’s lots of real world interest in the subject. Hmmm.

 

A bright spot (more like a bright acre or two) was the proliferation of virtual reality and augmented reality exhibits in the South Hall. Total home entertainment immersionnow that appeals to me, and judging by CES 2018, I have plenty of company. This isn’t just a gamer-geek novelty anymore.

 

Much was made of the power failure in the Central Hall on the second day of CES. The irony was lost on no one. It made me realize that any consumer electronics product is worthless unless it works. After the show, I visited a friend who spent much time yelling at his smart-home control so it could “hear” him. The man-machine interface ain’t perfect yet. Will CES 2028 have a Brain Implant Device Pavilion?

 

Seems like “artificial intelligence” has become the consumer electronics buzzword du jour. But how much of it is merely hype? This is something I want to investigate. Having your refrigerator create a shopping list or having a car with facial recognition isn’t exactly the same as IBM’s Watson or even Sophia the Robot.

The most subversive booth I saw was the Netflix exhibit promoting the upcoming Altered Carbon sci-fi series (shown at the top of the page). It featured highly advanced future tech that was completely fictitious. As I left the booth, I wondered how many people thought it was real.

 

What was the Big Picture here? I don’t know if anyone can see it anymore. Literally. Maybe a few years from now, publications will be sending AI-enabled robots that unlike us mere humans might actually be able to cover the whole show.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Getting High on Virtual Reality

virtual reality

Disclaimer: The Rayva Roundtable is not responsible
for bizarre typos in manufacturer graphics

I thought I had a handle on this whole virtual reality thing. After all, I’d experienced a few demos, including a full 360o one from an HTC Vive system in my own home that was pretty darn convincing.

 

So I thought I was well prepared for a demo from VRPark at the recent New York Photo Plus Expo. Their VRPark Capsule looked like it would provide a pretty realistic VR experience. It had two egg-shaped cockpits for a friend and me to sit in, and it moved around on its base to provide motion simulation. I figured it was a virtual rollercoaster ride.

 

But before strapping us in and fitting us with VR helmets, the woman working the Capsule asked, “Do you want the nice ‘travel’ demo or the scary demo?”

 

“Um . . . um . . . let’s go for the scary demo!” I knew it wasn’t real so how scary could it be?

 

The goggles winked alive to the image of a ride at an amusement park. Yeah, OK, a rollercoaster—but then the “ride” pulled us up and back like a giant swing, up . . . and up . . . and UP! Hundreds, maybe thousands of virtual feet into the air!

 

I’d neglected to mention that I have a fear of heights—a completely incapacitating fear of heights. I can’t go on my roof to clean the gutters. When I get in glass elevators, I have to look at the floor.

 

So when we went rocketing into the sky, I was terrified. I had a bird’s-eye view of the virtual amusement park, the surrounding houses, the trees, the whole town rendered in vivid 3D detail. I broke out in a sweat. I grabbed the ride’s handgrips as hard as I could. The motion of the ride and the sounds through the headphones—including people screaming—only added to the intensity.

virtual reality

Yaaahhhh! I kept telling myself, “It’s not real!” Didn’t matter. My primitive reptile brain took over my rational mind. I got dizzy. After just a few seconds, I couldn’t take it and closed my eyes.

 

Then I told myself, I’ll get used to it. I opened my eyes again. It’s not real . . .

 

We were now way high up, upside down, facing the sky and looking at clouds! Then the ride dropped precipitously, almost hit the ground, and swung back up like a pendulum! Gggaaaahhhh! At that point, I was screaming along with the people in the headphones.

 

I had to close my eyes again. But I didn’t want to wimp out through the whole demo so I re-opened them. The virtual ride was now rotating on its axis with the world tumbling end over end. The VR capsule continued to plummet, tumble, spring up, accelerate, and decelerate. I was totally rushing out holy jeezuz H. gawd almighty AAAH! AAAHHH! AAAAAAAHHHHH!

 

Maybe I shoulda tried a yoga or relaxation video. Finally, the ride stopped. I got out, unsteady, sweating—and more exhilarated than I’d been in years. (Sorry, angioplasty doesn’t count.) Whadda ride! Talk about entertainment!

 

Suffice to say my perspective on virtual reality has changed.

 

I’d thought it was a fun way to enhance video gameplay, aid in pilot and astronaut training, and maybe become a stupid novelty for video porn. (Missed that demo at CES.) Now I realize it’s far beyond that, that the line between virtual and actual reality can be readily blurred and not just because of ever-improving technology.

 

At its best, VR overrides your rational brain and evokes visceral, instinctual, and emotional responses so strongly your mind can’t resist. Your id and body take over.

 

If virtual reality can provoke that strong a reaction, I would argue that it might as well be reality. Not a new concept, I know (ref. The Matrix or Neuromancer or any number of sci-fi novels and films). But wait till you try it—then tell me how you feel.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.