How the Emotiv EPOC Works

Playing the Emotiv EPOC

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­Whenever you're frustrated, your mind emits a particular pattern of brain waves. And while the pattern might stay consistent, it's probably a little different from the pattern another person emits whenever he or she gets frustrated. Because all brains are unique, the Emotiv EPOC has to get to know your brain before you can get your Luke Skywalker on.

First, as you're putting on the headset, you need to finagle the electrodes to make appropriate contact with your head. Because it doesn't use the adhesive material of medical electroencephalogram (EEG) machines and the headset is meant to fit all sizes, you need to arrange the electrodes manually until they're just right. Refrain from making jerky movements to avoid disconnecting an electrode. Bundled along with the Emotiv EPOC headset is a game in which you're challenged to perform tasks for a sensei. In this game, you're told to practice concentrating on a specific motion, such as lifting. The headset's electrodes record the resulting brain waves during your concentration, and from then on, the system recognizes that pattern as the lift function. Concentration is key, which can be challenging. Creators of the system recommend that you physically pantomime the motions so that you stay focused on the task at hand and are able to repeat it later in the game [source: Edwards].

A few of the actions the game asks you to practice and perform are:

  • Lifting an object
  • Dropping an object
  • Pushing an object
  • Making an object vanish
  • Rotating an object on six axes

Other aspects of the EEG readings don't have to be quite so unique to you to work. For instance, the system can pick up on general boredom even if it hasn't asked the player to practice boredom before. The system recognizes that if you're emitting more theta waves than usual, you're basically zoning out. The system can respond by ramping up the excitement in the game [source: della Cava].

Some emotions it reads are:

  • Excitement
  • Tension
  • Boredom
  • Immersion
  • Meditation
  • Frustration

Aside from actions and emotions, remember that the headset can also read facial expressions. As you wink or frown, a corresponding cartoonish face on the screen mimics the action. This can be incorporated into the game as well. In demonstrations of the game, players are shown scaring away fanciful creatures by grimacing.

Here are some of the actions Emotiv says the headset can read:

  • Winking
  • Laughing
  • Crossing eyes
  • Appearing shocked
  • Smiling
  • Getting Angry
  • Smirking
  • Grimacing

What does the future look like for this technology? While some consider the EPOC just fun, games and Jedi mind tricks, others see this technology as having far-reaching implications -- some good, some bad.