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Before It Can Read Our Minds, "Siloed" Tech Needs to Come Together

"We've got all the Legos and now we need to build the thing."

Technology is getting better at knowing how we feel as we use it — but there are still decades to go before that know-how can be applied in a seamless way, experts said today at the Neurogaming Conference in San Francisco.

The conference’s first panel covered “Sensory Gaming Platforms” and featured speakers from Emotiv, which sells EEG headsets that read brain waves; Immersion, which works on haptics (vibrations/touch feedback); Leap Motion, which makes a gesture-sensing controller for computers; and DreamWorks Animation, which is experimenting with content based on those and other new technologies. DreamWorks’ Shiraz Akmal said the goal is to make new experiences like Dragon Flight, a virtual reality game for Oculus Rift based on the movie “How to Train Your Dragon” that lets players sit on a saddle and feel like they’re flying.

“How do we make this more accessible?” Akmal asked. “How do we make this consumer-friendly?”

Good questions. Immersion’s Nick Thomas said the big problem with tech that reads and provides feedback to the body is that it is “siloed.” In other words, you need at least three devices to read the three different senses represented on the panel.

“At some point, all these things need to come together,” Thomas said. “We’ve got all the Legos and now we need to build the thing.”

Akmal said he expected that convergence to a point of total, seamless immersion could take 50 years, and Thomas agreed, noting that content for sensory devices faces a chicken-and-egg problem. Does technology lead game design, or will the demands of new games push the technology? He praised Nintendo’s philosophy of making hardware and software an inseparable experience.

This is one of the potentially interesting things about Stanford University’s emotion-reading game controller, which I wrote about last week. By putting the sensors that can detect and react to bodily information into a widely accepted piece of technology, the gamepad, consumers might be more receptive.

Emotiv co-founder Tan Le, however, said people working in biofeedback should not constrain themselves by trying to make a faster horse when they could make a car.

“We have to push the envelope,” Le said.

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