Mindflex: Brain-controlled Neuro-Toy


Who says neuroscience can’t be fun? The toy company Mattel is introducing a toy that lets players control a ping pong ball with their brain waves:

A player straps on a headset that is designed to read theta brainwaves, typically associated with alertness and concentration. By focusing or relaxing, the player can control the speed of a fan that elevates a lightweight purple ball, and then must try to turn a knob by hand to guide the ball through various hoops in an obstacle course. [From BITS at NYTimes.com – Mattel Channels Obi-Wan: “Stretch Out With Your Feelings” by Brad Stone.]

Writer Brad Stone’s attempt to make the ball negotiate the hoops was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. Whether Stone hadn’t spent enough time meditating in a Tibetan monastery or the Mindflex toy was having a bad day is unknown. If you want to try Mindflex out yourself, you will be able to buy one for $80 later this year.

  1. GaryD says

    Wow, that’s incredible. I would have to see it to believe it.

  2. Samuel D. Bradley says

    This is yet another great use of correlation rather than causation in brain activity.

    Given the number of synapses in the brain, we will never really be able to mind read.

    That’s the beauty of this type of application. You don’t have to know WHY a particular rhythm — in this case around 5 Hz — is associated with a particular cognitive function. One need only know that it IS associated.

    Then this simply becomes a biofeedback exercise. The more patient you are, and the more willing you are to try to associate your thought with the ball’s subsequent behavior, the more successful you will be.

    They are doing similar work stimulating muscles of paralyzed animals. Awesome stuff.

  3. Ingrid Cliff says

    Wow this is a cool example of taking something that was only the realm of computer games into the tangible.

    Journey to Wild Divine was perhaps the best and most complex of the computer games where you controlled the action with your brain waves instead of your mouse (and there wasn’t a gun or dead body in sight).

    Now if we can create something that can iron clothes just by using brainwaves and I would be happy!

  4. Apparently the sensors are on the forehead and earlobes — the forehead picks up muscle movement and the earlobe sensors, well, there’s no way that could be brain-related activity. In fact, the earlobes are often used as a place to put a reference sensor which picks up only body/general head activity. Maybe the “concentration” that is moving the ball is the frowning that many people exhibit as they concentrate.

    An actual brainwave technology, BCI (brain-computer interface) was featured on 60 Minutes recently. It uses the P300 electrical spike in brain activity to help paraplegics use a typing application. A truly marvelous technology, helping former invalids function in the world again!

  5. Luta says

    I just saw this demonstrated on The Today Show and that’s awesome. It’s pretty cool!

  6. George Levy says

    I want to get this toy for my kid because it looks like fun.

    Agreed, the classic dilemma of association vs causation applies. This is where we most often fail in our inferences.

    I am highly skeptical that any reasonable use of the small potentials picked up on EEG are employed in this toy.

    I cannot wait to play with it, as it sounds like it reacts to certain muscle movements or orientation, which already stated above that makes said toy a basic biofeedback device, which still might be fun.

    Even if it is measuring any summation of neuronal activity, it still is a biofeedback device, the resolution being too poor to infer any sort of pseudoscientific paranormal or psionic force, or specific localized function.

    Regarding the future of neuroscience it is exciting to note the advent of functional imaging and the many breakthroughs in understanding neuronal interaction, from quantum, to electrochemical and synaptic behaviors, up to studies on neocortex and theories that remain to be studied.

    I don’t believe that we can rule out quite anything yet regarding how far we will be able to achieve. Mind Reading (this is not a statement into the paranormal) at its most basic level to some degree can be done through fMRI.

    How far the resolution will go is not cannot be known yet. Although in physics there are very reasonable assumptions. Information theory suggests that if we do not destroy ourselves as a civilization, there may indeed some phenomenal things occurring in the next few hundred years.

    Check out Feynman’s lectures on computation . .
    Kurzweil writes some provocative (perhaps on the fringe) articles on this subject.

    Anyway, it looks like fun, I am going to get one!!! I’ll read the box and report back on there misrepresentations!


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