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by Mike Zazaian October 10, 2006 - 2:35pm, 2 Comments

Teen Controls Video Game With His Mind

A boy who suffers from epilepsy was able to play Space Invaders via brain waves, thanks to a team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, and engineers at Washington University in St. Louis.

The 14-year-old boy, who suffers from regular seizures, already had a grid of sensors implanted into his brain so that surgeons could locate the brain region that was causing the seizures. By programming the Atari software to interface with the brain-machine interface grid, the boy was able to play the first two levels of Space Invaders without lifting a finger.

He cleared out the whole level one basically on brain control, said Dr. Eric Leuthardt, an assistant professor of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine . He learned almost instantaneously. We then gave him a more challenging version in two-dimensions and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination.

The brain-machine interface grid monitors and records electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity taken invasively, straight from the surface of the brain. Prior to the experiment Leuthardt and his colleague Dr. Daniel Moran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering attached the patient’s ECoG grid to a powerful computer running a program called BCI2000, which runs a simple video game that serves to calibrate the device. By asking the boy to perform an array of motor skills tasks, speech tasks, and exercises of the imagination, the team was able to discern which parts of the brain relay the brain signals that correlate to each specific action.

Initially the boy was only able to play Space Invaders by moving his tongue and hand. But when the scientists told him to simply imagine himself performing the same movements he was able to manipulate the game exclusively through the use of brain waves.

Leuthardt and Moran first tested their ECoG technology in 2004 on a group of four adult patients. Both were eager to get a set of data from an experiment conducted on a teenager, as the results demonstrate the differences in brain patterns in subjects earlier in their development. Because they only have a set of data on one teenager, however, Leuthardt said further conclusions can’t be drawn until data on more subjects is gathered. Still, Leuthardt is wholly optimistic about the experiment’s outcome:

We observed much quicker reaction times in the boy and he had a higher level of detail of control - for instance, he wasn’t moving just left and right, but just a little bit left, a little bit right.

[via Washington University Press Release]