Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

Making Joysticks Obsolete 89

Alien54 writes "NASA has been taking a beating about their in ability to get the really important things done. ABCNEWS has a story that reveals exactly what they have been working on: Computer control of things like joystick interfaces and keyboards by reading the muscles directly. No more joysticks or keyboards. Just gestures to control, say, an aircraft. A more advanced gaming interface indeed! There is also a short video showing the current state of the art." Imagine what this device could do for the por-- I mean, gaming industry.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Making Joysticks Obsolete

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ahh -- ahh -- -- AHH-CHOOOO! *WhiRRRRR* *BLAM*

    (and the fire, and the screaming, and such.)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "..think Russian...think Russian"
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is just great. Now the systems I have to build which are designed with lots of hand-waving will be controlled by hand-waving.

    Anonymous cowards would never make fun of people who think they can design software without being able to program.

  • It's been a few years since I've watched Firefox, but IIRC it was the weapon systems that were thought controlled. And it required him to think in Russian, so I don't think that muscle sense was part of it.

  • I tried something similar out at a macworld several years ago. They were controlling a sega racing game with thoughts. You wore something on your head to control the speed, and steered like normal. As I recall, you got calmed down to speed it up, and got mad to slow it down.

    A friend who was with with me said it best, when he thought about his girlfriend, the car sped up. When he thought about his job in tech support, it came to a screeching halt.
  • If it's used for scrolling, then porn is going to be a dizzying experience.
  • by Mihg ( 2381 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:25PM (#217892)

    Imagine it: your plane's pilot suddenly has to sneeze, or he develops a nervous tic, or he has a muscle spasm.

    "Folk's, I apologize for the rough flying back there, the pilot had to scratch an itch..."

    What fun!

  • Or the pilot pulls a 9g turn and has to tense muscles to stop from blacking out. The software would have to be pretty damn smart.

  • I find the gesture motions in Opera very intuitive and use them all the time. Now I use explorer or IE and I'm always trying to use gestures... I frown and remember I'm not using opera...

  • remember the powerglove?

  • This is the problem with the system that I first though of.

    For the dozen or so other people who have seen the Avro Arrow movie, reacll that it was the first fly by wire plane. The initial controls had no resistance, and the pilots complained.. The engineers devised some kind of system where there was some kind of feed back..

    You would think that when one of the major advances of the Canadaarm recently is giving it the ability to 'feel' there aware of the problem thought...

  • So, it would be like their flying machines, right?

    Man, Star Trek: TOS seems more and more outdated.
  • Hmm the ABC image of the fighter jet (granted in game) brings to mind one problem. What happens when you sneeze?
  • Well, I have absolutely no sense of humor. By the time it took me to type that, there were already 4 other identical posts about sneezing. I apologize. Please make love to me.

    "I'm not gonna say anything inspirational, I'm just gonna fucking swear a lot"
  • The only reason the corollary benefits of space exploration are even mentioned is so that people who don't understand the fundamental human imperative of exploration can be snookered out of their (approximately) $1.00 tax contribution to the space program.

    The cost for space exploration is trivial. The benefits are uncountably huge. The tax revenues from the telecom industry (which would not exist in any recognizable form without modern satellite communication) from one single year would cover NASA's budget back to 1960.

    So, the money's REALLY for space exploration. The rest are just freebies. You're trying to put the cart before the horse.
  • by kTag ( 24819 )
    How many times did I tell you my son, this is not a muscle this is a sponge...

    And if you don't get it, as usual you REALLY need a girlfriend...
  • I was reminded of that scene in _The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ in which Zaphod is trying (with limited success) to control some gesture-sensitive machine.
  • I hate sneezing when I drive already.

    And what about people who get angry when they drive... that nervous tick is problematic enough, now it'll move the car god knows where. Unless they can manage to take such involuntary motions and harness them into good driving skills...
    everyone was born right-handed, only the greatest overcome it.
  • This is a great technology for people who are physically impaired in some way. However, I don't think that pilots will go for it. There is just too much to be said for having a tactile interface. You need force feedback when flying, or else you could end as an oily smear on the side of a mountain. It may make sense to use some form of this technology for specific functions such as radar. Imagine being able to get a target lock by just keeping in eye contact with your target.

    Despite the usefullness of this technology, it will not soon or easily displace a good old fashioned stick
  • That's always been my beef with the whole Star Trek NG/DS9/Voy's touchpad control systems. Can you imagine trying to touchtype on a keyboard that was printed on glass? Now you have to do that without even any glass!

    Now, if they can develop this with a direct simulated neural feedback so it feels like you're touching a keyboard, while the do-hickey is just reading your muscle/neural signals, then you might have something. Except I don't know what you have that couldn't be achieved better just with an actual keyboard and mouse.

    Of course, that's the cool thing about scientific/technological advance. These guys can work on this for years, never come up with anything useful, and then suddenly realize they've jsut invented the long-sought-after Infinite Improbability Drive!
  • Where's that tongue-motion sensing device I've been filibustering for?!?

    Come on, that's the precision communications output organ of the body...

  • Does your mother know your still up kiddiot? FYI I posted the link for your dumb ass. Why don't morons like you find something more productive to do with your lives... It baffles me that you idiots run around posting such nonsense.
  • by joq ( 63625 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:39PM (#217908) Homepage Journal

    About a month ago I watched a television show about people with disabilities. During the show they had this mind control based program attached to a person's head which allowed them to think of which way to turn things. The program was dropped by the USAF (or they said it was) but continues for paraplegics.

    I don't recall the complete set up they had, but it seemed like electrical wiring attached to the backside of the persons head allowed them to think about moving objects in a specific direction, sent signals to their wheelchairs or in another case implanted motors in one crippled persons hand to commit the actions.

    Anyways the USAF was testing it previously since they were stating that pilots had too many buttons, controls, gauges to monitor, so they were looking for alternative methods of having them manuever the aircraft when they were flying. If I'm not mistaken it (the technology) was highly used in NASA as well.

    So aside from all this semi informative stuff. I would rather have NASA spend time fscking around to get things done properly then to keep having them waste money crashing, and losing aircraft.

    2600 being run by Peter Pan [antioffline.com]
  • by joq ( 63625 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @08:29PM (#217909) Homepage Journal

    Here's the information to what I was speaking about for those interested in the above thread I posted.

    http://www.brainfingers.com/technical.htm [brainfingers.com] extreme thanks to Michael (don't know if he wants his last name posted) for pointing me in the right direction with the link.
  • To turn left, use this series of muscle movements...

    Or I can just stick with the plain old Joystick.

    What would be better if you could control it with your nerve impulses. That way you wouldn't get tired of holding that stupid control thingy.
  • Check out the work of Australian performance artist Stelarc - he's been controlling industrial robots and a third arm for many years using muscle control. Once rigged up my arm and controlled it remotely..weird sensation... He's really into the 'human body is obselete' stuff and has been looking at how he can extend the capabilities for a long time. He's got into some interesting internet based projects as well...(pingbody [va.com.au], evolving URL body [va.com.au])..

  • I don't see it replacing keyboards. How would one type: learn ASL? Twist one's hand while making an "a" for the @ symbol? Type "7 of 9" as "this many" [SPACE] 'o' 'f' [SPACE] "this many"? My hands get tired just thinking about it.
  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:27PM (#217913) Journal
    To make the obligitory Douglas Adams quote for this thread, you need to sit annoyingly still to keep listening to the same station. If you controlled an airplane like this, you'd soon have the first case of an airliner crash caused by a flea.
  • Didn't Nintendo already do this with their Power Glove? :)
  • It really works already. Also they were showing interfaces directly into the brain with an implanted microchip that let deaf people hear.

    The future is now.
  • I will stick with my track ball (yes I still use a track ball) any my Keyboard. Maybe I am just old I am 24 ;-> (ok sorry about the stupid joke)

    beside I just spent $40 on a happy hacker keyboard.
  • by AMuse ( 121806 ) <slashdot-amuse&foofus,com> on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:41PM (#217917) Homepage
    The interesting part of all this stuff is the material the controller is made of.

    Some cut-off spandex from a jumpsuit, and coat button snaps sewn on backwards for the electrodes to connect to.

    NASA Engineers with duct tape and a toolshed can do pretty much anything. :>

    BTW, For info on the Neural Engineering project at NASA Ames who is working on this project, see The Neural Engineering group [nasa.gov]
    ------------------------------------------------ --
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @09:33PM (#217918) Homepage
    Stuff like this has been tried before, but it's too open-loop to be useful.

    Basic frustration: touch feedback is much faster than visual feedback. Visual is limited to maybe 2Hz; tactile is maybe 10x that. This is one reason gloves-and-goggles virtual reality systems are so painful to use.

    True force feedback is very effective. Most of the stuff on the game market is treated as a subwoofer, not a real force feedback device, so you can't judge by that.

    One of the neatest force feedback devices I've come across was from the now-defunct Kraft Telerobotics. They had a backhoe you could control with a force-feedback handgrip. The feedback was good enough that you could feel what you were digging, and could reach down into a trench full of muddy water and dig around pipes by touch. Unfortunately, they got into NASA contracts instead of heavy construction and were never heard from again.

  • Yes now you to virtually masterbate with your Virtual Vixen. As Virtual Vixen senses every move of your muscles.

    Now all they have to do is make it Water Proof.
  • Just imagine what carpal tunnel will be like after this kind of thing gets underway. Carpal tunnel in the forarms/hands/fingers is bad enough already. Just imagine if you get home from work and you're too brain-dead to find your house key or remember your spouses' name. This kind of thing could be pretty devastating if your mind works the same way as your body.

  • I agree, there are some things that do not need gesture recognition. I have never used the gesture recognition in the new opera mainly becuase it is useless. This new technology described in the article would be a lot more practical if a button could be installed on the palm of the hand(touchable with thumb) that temporarily disables the gear while pressed. That way, if something is bothering the operator of the equipment, like an itch, they can hold the button, scratch the itch, then get back to whatever they were previously doing. p.s.- to the person who said they didnt want a mouse&keyboard for tribes... try the ms sidewinder dual strike. its not that much money and it eliminates use of a mouse&keyboard in fps games
  • what type of mouse do u use? the reason I might never use them is because I own a mouse with two side buttons for foward & backward while browsing(ms intelimouse optical). I usualy find that the guesture recognition gets in the way of browsing.
  • that muscles like to work against resitence. Close your eyes and move your arm about. How aware are you REALLY about just where it is?

    Not very.

    Yet every nerve ending in your skin is highly tuned to sense pressure changes amounting to fractions of an ounce, even when the load gets over 100 lbs. of force.

    We are inherently desinged for pressure feedback, not position feedback.

  • imagine if you will, the first time someone is using this for a game of quake, and they have say, a seizure. Can you just imagine what that would look like in the game?

    "Dude, check out THAT guy! I've never seen anyone jump side to side that fast before...."

    Would certainly make it a bitch to cruise pr0n though, wouldnt it? the screen wont stop moving up and down! :P

  • Hey, anyone else remember the DIY hacks that people rigged to attach them to 386's and play 3D-ish PONG, or maybe even do cool UI or Virtual Modeling stuff? I got a wild piece of hardware from that era that no one else seems to have ever heard of, the TransInfinte (a short-lived MIT spin-off that played with these things for a while, long defunct..) "Gold-Brick" attached a Nintendo PowerGlove to the ADB port (Mac-standard I/O interface) and whammo. Getto JPL DataGloves! wOOT!!!. Needless to say I was psyched at the chance to play with it, but through all me digging on the net, I could only find one sorry-ass freeware tool that did the damn ghetto 3-D PONG thing, damnit! Not having any idea how to RE the tech, I gave up and gave the glove back to the person I'd borrowed it from. Anyone want mine? If you want the damn thing, lemme know.
  • "Gesture recognition" seems to be a big buzzword at the moment. I've used it, and I'm unimpressed. Offloading it from the mouse seems like more work, and I play games to *avoid* exercise =) -- running to the bus stop or riding the 15 miles to work every once in a while is plenty for me.

    However, I *would* like to find a controller (and the hooks) that can play a decent game of Tribes without the mouse and a keyboard. All the joystick styles and button combinations I can think of always come up short by a few buttons.


  • Funny, my memories of using Opera make me frown. Sure, it's fast, but at what price? I'm not talking about money, it's that MDI, address-bar-at-the-bottom interface giving me nightmares! It might be better than Netscape or lynx, but that's about it.


  • Everybody thinks this is either a great joke or a ripoff, but nobody seems to have considered the benefits this kind of research could have for the disabled.

    Hacker: A criminal who breaks into computer systems
  • No more joysticks or keyboards. Just gestures to control, say, an aircraft.

    This would be great for the Air Force. Just use your middle finger to fire a missile at your enemy! Now, the middle finger is really the way to say "fsck you."

    Check in...(OK!) Check out...(OK!)
  • I find when I am flying I rely alot on the feedback I get through the controls. If this is only a feed through system how will you feel the wind?
  • Exactly what I was thinking. What happens if they sneeze? Is there a bloody pause button or would the compuer blitz and go all bonkers? The problem with muscle control is that we don't always control the buggers.
  • ... this will make flight school more interesting to be sure.

    Instructor: All right, you ready for your first solo flight?
    Flight Student: Yes, I am!

    *in the air*

    Instructor: Excellent, you're doing a great job keeping us level.
    Student: Thank you sir. It's really not that diff-- ah... ahhhhh.... AHHHCHOO!

  • I'm not sure if it was actually running on Linux or a BSD, but it was definately hooked up to a Unix box. If you saw the video clip, it was pretty obvious that the guy was running Gnome (it had the little Gnome foot on his panel).

    Pretty neat, if you ask me.

  • In the Apache gunship, a combat helicopter used extensively by the army, in-helmet sensors track the pilot's eye movements for hands free targeting.

    I thought that the helmet only tracked head position. The weapon would be aimed by the direction the entire head was pointing, not by the direction the eye was pointing. Hence, the gunner could look at his controls and still fire at the target. At least, that was the impression I got from Gunship!, the old Commodore-64 game :)


  • Humans spend the first several years of their lives learning how to interact with the world by moving things. Now we want to throw that away and make them interact by moving muscles or thinking of white elephants or whatever. Why? I guess on a space suit it might be nice because it is compact. But for most people I see this as only a niche product. The article seemed to say that it is cool that they are doing this, they didn't really go much into why.
  • Cool job!

    ...the quickest I can seem to consistantly react to the screen changing color and click 'stop' seems to be 0.33 seconds.

    Hmmmm... I get around 0.25 seconds on average without the electrodes, but I'm absolutely awful at quake - I just can't aim in time, or accurately enough, to avoid being mown done by even inferior weapons.

    How much of hand-eye co-ordination is in the brain, and how much in the body? That is, can electrodes help me aim better in Quake, without using a bot?

  • by shokk ( 187512 ) <ernieoporto.yahoo@com> on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @07:00PM (#217937) Homepage Journal

    And have they thought about how they're going to seal the controls to keep the vaseline from leaking into everything?

    Seriously, I can just see the humans of the future as big blobs just laying in their Poetic Tech Chair [slashdot.org] twitching and jerking their way through life with attendant Aibos [aibo.com] and Palm-creatures [slashdot.org] zipping around them. Actual contact won't be necessary as we can stop and smell the roses [digiscents.com] right on the information highway.

  • by dR.fuZZo ( 187666 ) on Thursday May 17, 2001 @01:34PM (#217938)
    I saw a segment on this on some news show -- it slips my mind what it was. Anyway, watching the guy demonstrate the technology, I have to say, it looked pretty uncomfortable. He moved his hand in ways that would surely cause carpal tunnel after prolonged use. It looked like he was bending his wrist to a degree that I don't think would be necessary while using a joystick.

    Also, when it comes to using a joystick, people can readjust their hands on the controller if they become uncomfortable. As far as I know, you'd always have to move your hand in the same way to get this technology to work.
  • Could be the reason why spin-off tech exsist in the first place is because gov't feels the need to save face: "Ok, we spent all your money sending people to space but you don't really care because we're going to saturate the media with a neon-orange beverage that just so happens you can clean your plumbing with! Look, it's pretty!" Justification rears is ugly head yet again.
  • First thing I'm going to do is map Ctrl-Alt-Del to the muscle movements involved in me giving someone "the finger." Now, when I get the BSOD, I won't have to do anything special to get it to restart.

  • Most folks here seem to think that sneezing or other involuntary actions would cause catastrophic failure or crashes. Not the case (at least not in the case of NASA's 757 simulator (some earlier slashdot post.)

    The neuroelectrical signals generated by your arm muscles (motor units) are rather unique per movement. (These signals are called MUAPS - motor unit activation potentials) I.e. you flex your fingers in a fist --> some signal, flex your biceps --> some different signal. The reason is that the resultant signal is an amalgamation of the firing of several different muscle groups (motor units) at different times, and with differing geospatial orientation (from the reference point of the electrodes).

    So when you're moving your arm around, the electrodes are picking up a steady stream of these MUAP signals, which may overlap. Neural nets and some quick per-user-basis learning tests can easily separate out the important MUAPS from the non important ones. And also, the involuntary muscle contractions generated by a sneeze (or whatever) would be easy for the control system to pick out and ignore.

  • Um, the problem is that you don't know before hand which problems will be solved by which research...

    Sure we can specifically target things like AI for ocean probes, but what's from stopping someone just like you saying 'That's sooo expensive, why not just do AI for automatic vacuum cleaners instead?'

    The difference being that for Hoover or Eureka, good enough is what sells, and AI research will stop when the vacuums figure out how to navigate, plug themselves into an outlet, and not get destroyed by running into the street. AI research for Mars, or even the ocean, will hopefully design for robustness, learning capability, flexibility, and reliability.

    How do we know that traveling to Mars doesn't unlock some sort of cancer cure as a side effect of making humans more fit in space? How do we know we won't cure baldness or the common cold by designing anti-radiation treatments? How do we know that we won't find the secret to room temperature superconducting electronics in the design of a lightweight yet sturdy heat transfer support structure (since there is no convection or radiative heat loss, you have to use other means)?

    There is applied research, where you know the problem and try to find an answer, and there is pure research, where you don't know the problem, and thus finding an answer is as much about finding the problem as anything else. Going into space offers a lot of pure research problems; materials sciences, medicine, genetics, biology, physics, mechanical engineering, electronics, etc. How do we know how they all fit? If we did, we would already know how to solve problems and questions; we don't, so the public has to be satisfied with the fact that such lofty, grand, and otherwise pointless expeditions do have many positive secondary effects.

    Traveling to Mars may unlock the secrets of buckyball transistors, or new lubricants that use buckyballs, or whatever. We don't know, yet.

    Geek dating! [bunnyhop.com]
  • dude...I swear I saw that in a movie somewhere... I think it had this guy that just kept saying "woah." Yeh yeh. then he died. then when some hot babe kissed him he came back alive. Damn. I need a hot babe near me whenever I command robots.
  • So what happens when something happens like a random muscle spasm. "sorry about that million dollar part, my muscle just freaked out on me"
    --------------------------------------------- ------------------
  • Don't know if anybody mentioned this yet, but they use finger-wagging in Net Force to control their computers. The series is set in the year 2010.

    Oh, yeah, the heroes are an FBI computer crimes division, and they break into routers and firewalls to trace the bad guys, etc. :/

  • But then, theoretically, wouldn't your computer know where your hands were at any given time? I'm not sure everyone here wants that, especially during the times when their perusing their pr0n collection.

    Or, alternately...

    "Warning: Nose picker detected. Computer will self-destruct in 5 seconds."
    "Remember, your friends will stab you in the back for the price of an Extra Value Meal."
  • This might be the way to control a giant robot... but the problem of a nervous twitch, etc. is still an issue. But then, how would it respond if you ran into something? The position of your arms and the robots arms would be out of sync, and that would be rather annoying.
    "Remember, your friends will stab you in the back for the price of an Extra Value Meal."
  • Imagine what this device could do for the por-- I mean,

    Oh my God! For providing the best recorder stimuli, the best porn stars would have Parkinson's disease!

    That's horrible!


  • Type "7 of 9" as "this many"... My hands get tired just thinking about it. My hands get tired thinking about 7 of 9 too...

    Damn it i'm a bastard.


  • Anyone remember the Eastwood movie, Firefox? Clint had to sneak into the Soviet Union, steal one of their two advanced prototype jets, and fly it back to the U.S. Anyway, it was controlled by merely _thinking_. I can't recall if muscle sensation was involved though.
  • In all seriousness, electromechanical prosthetic limbs have been around for years. Patients learn to control them through flexing muscles in the remaining limb, for example, a prosthetic hand can be controlled by fleximg muscles in the patients upper arm. This is relitively old technology.

    This is a new application (at least for the consumer market) with the exception of a few poorly recieved gaming devices like afore mentioned power glove.


  • > Computer control of things by
    > reading the muscles directly.

    Hand is part of your body, although not a muscle. As far as I know Joysticks can directly read your hand movements.
    This has been already done.
  • Of course they are working on advanced gaming, what with all this money that's going to be coming in from the yuppie 'space tourists'.
  • I'll bet I can guess what gesture fires the air-to-air missles.
  • Actually, i build one ca. 16 years ago.

    I needed a second Joystick-button for a game on the c64. AEK the buttons on a c64 where mapped against the spacebar for port 1 and some wierd Ctrl-sequence for port 2. You played this game with JP2 and the spacebar was used as secondary fire.

    So i build a device from a pacifier, an pushbutton and some wire to put in my mouth

    Voila a tongue-motion sensing device! My score rocketed :-)

  • There is a great use for this technology and you all missed it. This would be THE interface for hand helds. No more micro keyboards!
  • "Gold-Brick" attached a Nintendo PowerGlove to the ADB port (Mac-standard I/O interface) and whammo. Getto JPL DataGloves!

    Got ya' one uped on that one. I BUILT my converter! Actually it wasn't very hard. Take a 25 pin parallel port connector, a nintendo gamepad extention cord, and a 4 D-Cell battery pack. Cut the cords in half, strip back some insulation, twist a few wires together, connect the D-Cell pack to the powerglove's +/- lines, and away you go! Simple as 1-2-5. Errr... 3. :-)

  • by tulare ( 244053 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @07:07PM (#217958) Journal
    once Microsoft wins the patent it has applied for:
    Bipedal locomotion, associated with manipulation of external objects by means of axial appendages terminating in five-part fine manipulators:
    Use of above for movement, daily activities, and interactivity with technology devices.
    Applicant:Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington

  • Well, what is a little more difficult for me to measure is the amount of time it takes us to perceive and react to stimulus. It takes a certain amount of time for your eyes to perceive the visual change and a certain amount of time for you to process and react to the change.

    Can the electrodes help you aim better in Quake? Yes and No. With the Cyberlink, there is a mode called "click mode" which is only detects click signals from the electrical activitity it picks up from your forehead. So, if you are aiming and the crosshairs are over the target, by being able to react 100ms quicker, you have more of a chance of firing the weapon while you are aiming directly at your target. If you had to click a mouse button or press a key, there is a lag between your desire to fire and your ability to actually do so. That might cause you to miss your target.

    But, the human body compensates for these things. From experience your brain knows there is some lag time between the desire to move a muscle and when it actually moves. But most of the time that is just fine. ASAP is usually quick enough. :)

    Now, mapping a device to mouse movement AND clicking is slower. I can aim much more quickly moving the mouse around by hand than I can using my brainwaves. I can SHOOT faster using using the device, but I cannot move the mouse with more accuracy or speed that a normal person can with your hands.

    Our hands are very specialized and finely tuned due to a years of use. When you try to learn to use a different stimulus to moving things around, it is almost akin to having a new appendage. It takes time for a baby to learn how to use their arms, legs and fingers. The same goes for tech that gives us new methods of control.

    One thing that is a big help with fine control in the physical world is friction. The friction between muscles and where your hand contacts the mouse is very useful when you want to slow down and aim carefully. A problem with devices like this is there is no real friction, so we have to come up with methods to make virtual friction. A lot more work needs to go into this area to give a finer degree of control using this technology. :)

    I hope that answered your question. :)


  • by Sartian ( 248427 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @09:50PM (#217960)

    As someone who works with a related technology (Brain Actuated Technology [brainfingers.com]), I wanted to address some of the concerns I've seen a few people raise. Before I get too deeply into the discussion, I'll refer you to a previous reponse I made to the "Surfing The Net With Brainwaves?" [slashdot.org] article. If you are curious to see what I have said already about the subject, check it out.

    I'm a software engineer that works with a device called a Cyberlink [brainfingers.com] that allows you to control the mouse cursor (and other peripherals) using a combination of Brain/Body signals (EEG, EMG & EOG).

    From the electrode arrangement in the NASA picture I saw, it looks like they using EMG (electromyograph) signals to detect discreet electrical impulses for specific muscles. There is a lot of electrical energy involved in actuating the muscles in your body, the hard part is figuring which muscle signals of the multitudes are the ones you care about.

    One of the most difficult aspects of these types of technologies is resolving a "rest state". Energy is expended even when you are trying to hold a bodypart, like your arm, still. If the movement of a joystick/mouse/wheel was mapped directly electrical activity in your arm, wrists and hands you would have to worry about keeping them stationary to begin with so you wouldn't generate interference (and cause the device to move left when you wish it to stay where it is). Electrically, we are very noisy...

    If you aren't concentrating, it may cause control to "drift". For example, if I move the mouse around with my hand and I let go, the mouse cursor usually will remain exactly where you left it on the screen. But with devices that use raw biosignals, it is hard to "turn-off" electrical signals present in your body so that the device interpreting them will stop reacting to them. When I use the brain actuated mouse interface with the Cyberlink, its kinda hard to keep the mouse from NOT moving. Sure, I can move it up/down/left/right when I want to, but when I don't want it to move, it is hard to prevent it from "drifting" slightly in some direction. These are aspects of the technology I am working on fixing. As such, I am intimately familiar with most of the difficulties involved.

    In the case of picking up impulses meant for your hands and arm, it becomes even harder because we use our hands all the time for other tasks.

    But the good news is that these things can be tuned. There are ways around these limitations and work is being done to resolve these issues. I suffer from tendonitis in my wrists, so *I* at least have a very vested interest in making this technology work. :) This technology is tremendously useful for people with physical disabilities and there is work being done to make the technology more appealing to able-bodied persons as well. Your concerns are duly noted. (by me, at least).

    If you have additional questions or concerns for someone who is familiar with this technology, feel free to drop me an email and I will do what I can to answer your questions. :)

    Mmm, brain-controlled railguns... ;P

    PS: An interesting side-note is that it seems to take around 100 milliseconds (1/10 of a second) for a signal to be sent from your brain to get to your index finger and trigger movement *click*. By using a reflex tester (http://www.reflexgame.com/ [reflexgame.com]) the quickest I can seem to consistantly react to the screen changing color and click 'stop' seems to be 0.33 seconds. While using the Cyberlink (with electrodes on my forehead) I am able to consistantly react in only 0.22 seconds. So, my reaction time is about 1/10 of a second faster if I don't have to wait for the signal to travel all the way down to my finger. I'm already pretty dangerous in games like Unreal and Quake, but now I can fire that much faster. It is, however, a very odd feeling. You fire faster than you are expecting to. Its surprising. I keep thinking "Whoa, I fired already?" Eventually, we'll all be able to be LPBs [about.com] of a different variety. ;P



  • offtopic: I had a look at the link to Brainfingers, especially their Success Stories [brainfingers.com], and saw this about one of their users:
    He experiences "electrical storms" in his body, which appear as involuntary muscle contractions and his body starts shaking. Professor Doherty, who has been working with this individual, reports that during these storms it looks as if the individual is going through electrical shock.
    .....This individual has used the Cyberlink system for approximately 14 times. At first, he had little control. When the "electrical storms" occurred, the signals, as indicated by the Cyberlink graphical display, went off the display or reached maximum values.
    Electrical storms.... Can anyone tell me what this is all about?

  • Although not for the disabled, if you just want a head controlled mouse (for 100 bux), then see the Natural Point [naturalpoint.com].

  • by a project called The Human Instrumentality Project [sbs.com.au]. They made giant robots which function through a cerebral-nerve link with their operators. The pilots connect through the A10 neuron system of the brain. They can connect through their plug suits [sbs.com.au] and the medium of liquid known as LCL [sbs.com.au].

    Why you guys rolling on the floor?
  • by Migelikor1 ( 308578 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:41PM (#217964) Homepage
    About 3 years ago, I had the privelege of trying out a neurological interface system that was being developed by a private company in massechusetts. The system was being demonstrated through a two dimesional skiing game. The user put his finger in a sort of sensor tube, with electrodes along its length, and the skier changed direction according to their muscular twitches. The actual orientation of the controller finger didn't matter, but after a few minutes, you found that by thinking "left, left," really hard, your body would actually make the skier move. The tech was pretty cool, and, simialar to this NASA program, a way to interface the human mind more closely to a machine.
    Unfortunately for this program, the ski program differs greatly from flying a combat, or even civilian aircraft. Since so many muscle movements are involuntary (what if the pilot sneezes?) The type of close interface provided by a neuromuscular interface is not ideal for an immediate reactive function. In the Apache gunship, a combat helicopter used extensively by the army, in-helmet sensors track the pilot's eye movements for hands free targeting. However, because the weapons don't automatically deploy, the gunner/pilot must consciously fire, and there is a buffer between the eye interface, dangerous consequences. A direct link flight system as examined in the article lacks a requirement for conscious authentication, and in my opinion, therefore makes the aircraft far too volatile, and prone to accidental adjustment. I know I sent the skier crashing into the trees more than once!
  • by r_j_prahad ( 309298 ) <r_j_prahadNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday May 16, 2001 @06:31PM (#217965)
    She: "Honey, Slashdot won't stop scrolling. Can you help me?"

    Me: "How many times do I have to tell you... put the beer down."

  • This is perhaps the first step to becoming silicon based as opposed to carbon based© The idea of a data-jack, first proposed dozens of years ago, is rapidly becoming a technical possibility© If we have technology that allows computer to read our muscle movements, and technology that allows computers to project to our senses, how long before we make the next step and just throw away the annoying muscles and senses and go digital?
  • What self-respecting porn surfer is going to be willing to put away his joystick?
  • When you move a mouse, you can feel it...there may not be any "force feedback" per se, but you are able to rest your hand on it, and it holds up your arms. Doing direct muscle interactions might be nice, but wouldn't it get fatiguing to hold your arms in mid-air, or jerk your hand around with nothing underneath it?
  • Aliens: Mechanized equipment mover Starship Troopers: Mobile Infantry MechWarrior: Duh!
  • i am mostly fat, so this wouldn't work for me. like what am i going to do, go to like a gym or stop eating or something just so i can run Lotus 1-2-3-4?

    do i look stupid?
  • if you know anything about science you would know that anything in your imagination can kill you, so by extension, if you think you've bumped into something then you would have to stop moving.

    similarly, when like a fleet of kamikazee F-16s piloted by ghost velociraptors shoot at the robot's head, you would actually bleed from your own head.

    it's so obvious if you think about it momentarily.
  • Imagine it: your plane's pilot suddenly has to sneeze, or he develops a nervous tic, or he has a muscle spasm.

    So when you type something in your computer, and sneeze, you suddenly type random characters? No, you sense that you'll going to sneeze, and move your hands away from the keyboard.

    It's not difficult to think about how to apply the same principle for pilots: the signals from the hand muscles are interpreted only if one foot is on a pedal. To sneeze, he just steps away from the pedal for a few seconds.

    And for the muscle spasm, the same is going to happen as for heart attacks: the co-pilot takes over.

  • : Noooo! Damn NASA stole our gesture movement! It was so original, and inventive, and was destined to win us a commanding lead in the browser wars!
    : Well, sir, actually NASA isn't affecting our market share. After all, we too just stole the ideas from some callow Norwegian boy. And, "browser wars?" that is so passe. I believe the correct, *modern* term is "NapB2B-JavaRIAA.com"
  • This is 2001. I want thought control. I remember reading Firefox when I was a kid and thinking how cool that would be. Plus, no carpal tunnel worries!

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982