Mind games: UAlberta students create video game you can control with your thoughts

Student group uses cutting-edge neurotechnology to create accessible game experience.

Andrew Lyle - 27 August 2019

A student club at the University of Alberta is making (brain) waves with a project they've created that allows players to control a simple video game with their mind.

"Our group, NeurAlbertaTech, is exploring the field of neurotechnology and innovation by creating new projects that interface with the human brain and body," said Abdel Tayem, undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Science, "Our first project is named AlphaBlaster, and submitting it for a global neurotech competition was our first goal."

Under the supervision of Assistant Professor Kyle Mathewson, the student group made use of a commercial neurotech headband-the Muse EEG, donated by competition hosts NeuroTechX. The headband takes a general reading of levels of brain activity in a particular frequency band known as alpha waves.

"Previous research has shown outstanding evidence that alpha frequencies can be used as a measure of attention," explained Tayem. "When alpha wave power is high, the person is usually not attending to the task at hand and vice-versa. We use this reading so the game can measure activity in real time and wirelessly change the action of player based on brain activity."

The technology behind AlphaBlaster has exciting applications, particularly in improving accessibility-creating technology able to be used with limited or no mobility.

"Neurotechnology is important as our field of neuroscience matures towards helping people in their everyday lives," said Mathewson. "We now know enough about the brain and have sophisticated equipment that can measure and understand brain activity-and we need to put that knowledge to work helping people. NeurAlbertaTech's project represents a great opportunity for students to not only help people but also to get their hands dirty and make something outside the classroom."

Making (brain) waves

The AlphaBlaster project was NeurAlbertaTech's entry into the 2019 NeuroTechX Student Club Open Competition, where they placed fifth overall with their submission. As for what comes next the student group, NeurAlbertaTech has its sights set on continuing to grow and pursuing new frontiers.

"Our goal for NeurAlbertaTech is to continue finding students interested in these fields, providing them the space and resources to create new projects, and finding new ways for us to gain funding and support to continue competing in NeuroTechX competitions," said Tayem. "It takes a lot of effort, interest, and cooperation to make the incredible happen, and we can't wait to help lead NeurAlbertaTech into becoming the perfect opportunity for avid students to pursue exactly that."

Do you want to learn more about NeurAlbertaTech? Do you know an undergraduate student who might want to join the team? Check out the NeurAlbertaTech website to learn more.