Tech Startup Neurable Allows You To Control VR and AR Using Only Your Thoughts

Wednesday, 10 May 2017 - 3:31PM
Technology
Gadgets
Virtual Reality
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 - 3:31PM
Tech Startup Neurable Allows You To Control VR and AR Using Only Your Thoughts
Image credit: Neurable, University of Michigan
Every couple years, tech geeks like us watch questionable press releases come out announcing that soon we'll be able to control mouse cursors with our minds and get rid of keyboards. They always boil down to the same thing: the tech is still spotty, the brain is complicated, and reading thoughts is still sci-fi. So when we started reading about Boston start-up Neurable, we were excited but skeptical—Neurable promises to turn augmented reality into a seamless experience by letting you navigate it with your thoughts. When it comes to VR gaming, they aim to turn VR gamers into Neo from The Matrix, complete with bullet-stopping telekinesis, silent communication, and thought-triggered actions.



But the more we grilled the folks at Neurable, the more we began to understand that their BCI (brain-computer interface) and integration with AR and VR is more than just a novelty spoon-bending simulator or menu navigation tool—its aim is to merge the virtual world with reality by using artificial intelligence and machine learning. And with more than $2 million in funding, they might just be the people to do it.

Here are some of the high points from our discussion with Adam Molnar, Business Development Manager at Neurable.

OP: How does Neurable's BCI deal with nuanced situations, like manipulating objects or navigating a menu? Is there ever an issue distinguishing between 'signal' and 'noise' when it comes to a user's intent?

Neurable: The signal to noise issue is the one most prevalent for brain-computer interfaces, it's what made them essentially unusable for consumer applications. However, with our insights into how the brain works combined with our proprietary machine learning algorithms, we have overcome many of these issues. Something that increases noise (i.e. makes it harder to find useful brain information) is movement, but thankfully, a lot of Dr. Alcaide's research has been done with ambulatory EEG.

OP: What are some of the highlights or successes you'd like to highlight when it comes to Neurable's technological hurdles?

Neurable: We make brain-computer interfaces, we have a brain-enabled interaction method. THAT being said, at our core what we are is an artificial intelligence/machine-learning company. It is our unique understanding [regarding] Neuroscience paired with novel machine learning algorithms that really give us a competitive edge.

OP: One of Neurable's goals right now is translating its tech into the VR market. What are some of the challenges of merging Neurable's tech with the virtual world, and what are some of the things that gamers can get excited about with Neurable?

Neurable: The biggest challenge we face is that most people don't have access to EEG devices. VR is not the difficult part, it's having the necessary technology ubiquitous so that content can be accessible. We think that will change with time, especially when people see how important (and awesome!) brain-enabled control will be for virtual and, perhaps to a greater extent, augmented reality.

Gamers can get really excited about being able to use their mind to control VR in the pretty nearby future, an interaction method that goes above what is normal, affording "super-immersion," or i.e. immersion otherwise not possible in the real-world.

OP: We previously spoke with Lindsay Boyajian at Augment about the challenges of augmented reality, and one of the key issues she brought up was designing and creating content. How do you think Neurable will change the ways people design VR and AR?

Neurable: We see brain-enabled control as the missing UI. Think about the personal computer, which was terribly inaccessible to the lay-user until the mouse and keyboard came around. I think this applies more so to AR..but for VR it will afford levels of what we call "super-immersion." Right now, the most immersive environments are ones that emulate real-life and/or engage the user's imagination...with brain-enabled control, we offer an interaction method that doesn't exist in the real-world.

OP: What are the key challenges you foresee with BCI technology and thought-controlled interfaces?

Neurable: Expensive hardware is one of them but that doesn't even worry us because we've already seen the hardware drop to a point to make it, potentially, consumer viable (considering production at scale). Another potential challenge will be making the hardware suitable for day-to-day use/socially acceptable. Right now, the hardware can be a bit bulky, which is OK for VR, because it works perfectly with the headset. But until the pieces can be slimmed down, it will probably face some social pushback for public use (think Google Glass). A last challenge is that it only seems of recent that BCIs are getting much attention outside of research. Because of the lack of attention, development has largely been constrained to hobbyists and research institutions. The more people are interested in BCIs, the more resources and development will go into it, and the faster the progress will be.

OP: Anything you're particularly looking forward to when it comes to VR or AR tech in general?

Neurable: 
[For VR, I'm looking forward to] connected experiences, being able to interact with many other people in VR. Also, that feeling when you forget you're in VR, completely engrossed by what's going on. You get these feelings now but I imagine they'll become even greater in the future. And then shooting fireballs with my mind, of course.

You can check out Neurable's website here, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter to get updates on news. Meanwhile, we'll be busy watching the 1992 film Lawnmower Man and counting down the days until we have a Neuromancer VR game that let's us hack computer systems with our minds.
Science
Science News
Technology
Gadgets
Virtual Reality
No