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May the force be with you, for just $130

By Mark Baard
June 15, 2009
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GAMES
I am all for wooden toys and board games: I spent more than an hour stocking up on them last week at the Toy Box in Hanover, so we'll have a way to pass those rainy days on the Cape. But I am also a sucker for anything battery-operated or computer-chipped.

So when my friend Julie, who owns the Toy Box (www.thetoyboxhanover.com), showed me a picture of a new biosensing game, I was hooked.

The "Star Wars"-themed game, The Force Trainer, comes with a headset that reads your brainwaves and wirelessly triggers a fan to blow a ball toward the top of a clear chamber.

The technology inside the game's "Jedi Training Remote" is pretty basic, actually. The remote is a "dry" EEG-sensing device - a headset - that reads the beta-wave emissions from your brain. (Beta waves are associated with meditative states.) The harder you concentrate, the faster the game's fan spins, and the higher the ball goes.

Of course, The Force Trainer is not a mind reader. There is no need to focus on the game's "training sphere" to make it move up in the "training tower." Train your mind on a slice of pepperoni pizza and you will have the same effect on the ball.

The Force Trainer is due to hit store shelves in August (estimated price, $130). In the game, the voice of Yoda guides you through 15 training levels, from Padawan to Jedi Master.

The game is just one of a slew of EEG-sensor games we will see in the run-up to Christmas.

The Force Trainer, from Uncle Milton Industries Inc. (www.unclemilton.com), gets its brain-computer interface from NeuroSky Inc. (www.neurosky.com).

Other biosensor companies, such as Emotiv Systems (http://emotiv.com), sell similar devices, not only for games but for wheelchairs and other assistive technologies, and as aids to meditation.

augmented reality

System tracks eye motion to decide what data you want

The wildest ideas for the technologies that fascinate me, from RFID to flexible displays, often come from places like Holland, home to the Augmented Reality and RFID Lab in The Hague (www.arlab.nl/), Germany, and Sweden.

Perhaps it is the industrial music, or that Europeans are willing to take chances with funky eyewear. Perhaps it is because performance artists get paid to integrate RFID tags into their work.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) - visit www.ipms.fraunhofer.de/ - last week introduced the latest example of Germanic visioning: an augmented-reality "information system" (worn as a pair of eyeglasses) that tracks eye movements to determine the kinds of data you're looking for.

Fraunhofer IPMS's Bidirectional Microdisplay contains a mosaic of pixels and photo detectors that register your eye movements, as a camera would, and automatically displays data, depending on the context in which you are using the system.

The institute has conjured up several potential applications for its Terminator readout glasses: Looking in one corner of the glasses might bring up your SMS messages or Tweets. A pair of a work goggles might form a target around the parts you are looking for on a complex machine.

To its credit, none of Fraunhofer IPMS's scenarios for the Bidirectional Microdisplay include "target acquisition," the focus of so much DARPA-fueled research.