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Communicate Via Brainwaves

NeuroSky is developing ways for people to communicate using only their thoughts, kind of like the aliens in the upcoming sci-fi movie Battle: Los Angeles.
Left: Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz wearing an alien brain-wave communication device in Battle: Los Angeles; Right: The MindSet brain-wave headset by NeuroSky

In the sci-fi film Battle: Los Angeles, scheduled to debut in theaters next month, an advanced alien race invades Earth with high-tech weaponry. Instead of using radios or phones, the aliens can communicate nonverbally using devices embedded in their bodies. "Their technology has advanced from ours in a superior, dynamic, and organic way to create next-generation technology," explains Jonathan Liebesman, the film's director.

The aliens' nonverbal communication devices may sound far-fetched. But a handful of companies, including NeuroSky in San Jose, California, already make headsets that allow people to power video games with their minds. The devices sense analog electrical brain waves and process them into digital signals to make measurements that can control games. One day, such biosensor technology could be used to control a variety of everyday activities, such as turning on lights, adjusting room temperature, and even communicating with other people, according to Stanley Yang, NeuroSky's CEO. In fact, NeuroSky is working on a device that will allow people with tetraplegia, or "locked-in" syndrome, to type their thoughts on a keyboard using brain waves. "The technology can allow machines to conform to human needs, rather than humans conforming to machines," Yang says.

As a child, Yang was inspired by sci-fi movies such as Star Wars. Eventually, he became an engineer to create real innovations. "Movies may spark an idea," says Yang, who still dreams of making a light saber. "But engineering is the process of making a real product that is useful, not just as a Hollywood prop."

IMAGE: Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment; Courtesy Company
Last updated: Feb 1, 2011

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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