NeuroSky, as well as having a slightly ominious sci-fi-ish name, has just succeeded in raising nearly $12 million in funding to develop its business. What’s its business? Also very cool and sci-fi-ish: Brain sensors for mind-controlled games.
Remember that mind-controlled game from Mattel–Mindflex–that hit the news last year, with all sorts of references to the Force and so on? It’s powered by some NeuroSky sensors. The technology is an advance on the sort of tech used for decades to perform electroencephalography, medical measurements of the electrical behavior of the brain. NeuroSky’s been working on the science since its inception in 2004, and had been working from its previous venture funding of just $6.8 million, and sales of its MindSet product. The new venture round was uncovered by the folks over at VentureBeat, and it reveals that NeuroSky’s just added $11.8 million to its coffers.
According to its CEO Stanley Yang, the company will use the new money to step up its manufacturing process so that it’s ready to step into markets beyond gaming, such as medical tech, education, vehicle development, and even governmental uses (though quite what governments want to use this tech for is, frankly, mind-boggling). But the sensors can still be developed further, and some of the new $11.8 million it’s raised will go into R&D to achieve greater sensitivity.
It’ll take a while for developers to work out how to use NeuroSky’s systems, given evidence about how long it took Mattel and others to put the MindFlex system to use, but we know that Toshiba and Sega have gone into partnership with the company so at some point we can expect mind-controlled products from these guys. In Toshiba’s case it could be anything from a brain-controlled computer to medical scanners to advanced robotics. But in Sega’s case what many will be hoping for is something sophisticated and game-related: Will NeuroSky’s systems power the next revolution in gaming console design after the current vogue of motion control? After all, a mind-control game helmet sounds very exciting doesn’t it? (All those people who’ve seen Cronenberg’s movie eXistenZ needn’t comment.)
And if you’re in doubt that mind-reading controller tech really is the stuff of the far-flung future, rather than what may be the norm in as little as five years, then check this out. For years scientists have been carrying out research into brain-sensors and animal-machine interfaces using monkeys–it’s a tech that has great promise for artificial limb design, among other things. But just recently a monkey was demonstrated controlling a robot arm that had seven degrees of freedom–enough to just about emulate how flexible a real flesh-and-bone limb can be.
The monkey here had two implants directly in the parts of its brain that corresponded to its arm and hand controlling regions, and though this sort of invasive surgery would work in a similar way in humans, a non-invasive solution is obviously preferable. Maybe NeuroSky can help. Assuming Intel doesn’t get there first, of course.