I have built a prototype of a mind controlled virtual reality environment where you can experience several simple simulations in education, medicine and first person shooting. You can use your mind to move around the environment if you have an Emotiv EPOC, a brainwave reading device, look around the environment using the Oculus Rift, a VR headset, as well as move your hands and interact with objects using the Razer Hydra.
I’ve been following the virtual reality space as a hobby, just last year giving a go at building a basic virtual reality simulation in Skyrim. With the Oculus Rift coming out earlier this year, the VR space is starting to show a lot of potential, with developers working on some awesome stuff out there. With my experience in the education industry through my startup Zookal and keen interest in neuroscience, I had a thought around how these technologies could be used together to enhance education and at the same time, see how far can we go with using cognitive control in a virtual simulation.
Right now we’re seeing education go online, with massive open online courses making education free and accessible to many people around the world. These courses are great for learning on a theoretical level, but the problem I realised is that there’s a lack of more practical approaches to learning through technology. So I’ve put together simulations in several areas around education to test out a few practical cases, including in architecture, medicine and science.
Here are the simulations you can experience within the environment:
Use your hands to grab and move buildings around a miniature city planning board, then shrink yourself and experience the city as if you were actually there.
Perform a simple chemistry experiment and see what reaction occurs when you mix the chemicals Zinc II and Iron II together.
Use the hand tracking feature to operate a pistol and fire at enemies whilst moving around either with the Hydra’s joystick or using your thoughts with the EPOC.
Experience being in a surgical room and performing a simple biopsy on a patient by picking up organs from within their body.
This project is a work in progress, but it is being actively worked on so check back from time as more features and improvements will be added. The devices used for the simulation and alternative ones are becoming affordable and advanced enough for most people to have in their homes within the next few years. There are exciting new opportunities to create awesome software in VR.
The Oculus Rift has a consumer version being released in 2014 with a higher resolution and around the same price as the developer kit. CastAR is another interesting headset with both augmented and virtual reality capabilities that shows promise. It is being developed by ex-Valve employees and the company is currently raising on KickStarter. Big corporations like Sony are also entering this area, recently releasing the HMZ-T3W targeted more towards home entertainment use rather then gaming or other virtual simulations since essential features like head tracking isn’t built in.
The Razer Hydra has alternatives out now and newer devices being released soon for motion tracking, such as the Leap Motion released recently as well as the Kinect for Xbox One that track gestures from a fixed point but also devices like the MYO that take an alternative approach by sensing your hand’s muscle movements to track gestures.
The Emotiv EPOC‘s mind reading abilities are still quite primitive, with only being capable of having a limited amount of different actions mapped to thought patterns. In addition, the user friendliness is not great as the device requires extra setup for each use. Quite a bit of training is involved to get cognitive mappings working decently, but the latency is high, which doesn’t provide a good experience for anything involving fast paced action such as first person shooters. Emotiv is releasing a more advanced and user friendly headset next year called the Emotiv Insight. This project has just completed a successful raise on Kickstarter and there are alternatives such as the NeuroSky which shows that the technology is becoming progressively more affordable.
There are lots of other possibilities in education with VR, from engineering to biology and so many other areas such as tourism and, of course, gaming. I hope you enjoyed what I think is a pretty cool demo of what is currently possible with mind and motion controlled virtual reality.