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OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator The Future is nia Print E-mail
Jun 07, 2008 at 08:00 PM
Brain Computer Interfaces are the trend of the year. After almost one year of development, OCZ Technology's Neural Impulse Actuator is finally shipping. We have some of the inside scoop on the nia relating to the hardware and software development, as well as some glimpses at the more advanced possibilities of the device. At the end, we have some benchmarks - well, rather some pretty good scores in Unreal Tournament 3 to show that the nia can do a bit more than simply levitating obsolete computer hardware.


Since I was personally involved in the development of the nia, I am sure that there will be some voices claiming a bias towards the product. On the other hand, I believe that there is hardly anybody out there who actually understands the nia better than I do, at least for the time being. Qualification should not be in the way of writing about products – despite the current grain of wisdom often claiming the contrary or ignorance becoming a virtue – so let’s delve right into this article.

The nia Saga

Like many great stories, the nia saga took about a quarter of a century to break out of the twilight. The first steps were taken at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in the Aero Space Medical Research Labs between 1982 and 1986 when Dr. Andrew Junker, a research scientist, investigated the effects of computer interaction on the human brain. Various aspects of video game play, manual tracking, supervisory control and grammatical reasoning tasks were used as stressors. The human brain performance was quantified by using visual evoking stimuli as input and EEG at the back of the head as output, thus creating an input-output transfer function. Findings of this effort indicated that changes in human brain transfer function were reflective of the workload the person was under.

Headband and Electronics of the nia

Being able to measure a brain transfer function led to the development and running of another research effort from 1986 to 1990. The transfer function output was used to control an F16 roll-axis flight simulator. It was hypothesized that the person might more effectively control the transfer function output if they were immersed in the tracking task. Control of the F16 roll axis was compelling. Tests were successful. People were able to successfully control the roll of the simulator using EEG signals from the back of their head. However, control was difficult to achieve and it was difficult to obtain the EEG measurements from the back of the head.

Dr. Junker left the US Air Force research labs and moved to the island of St. John in the Caribbean to undertake private research. He was living on a sailboat and decided to incorporate ideas he had previously discovered with a new approach that he developed in the aft cabin of his sailboat setup as a laboratory. The idea was to build an interface to control his sailboat as a proof of concept; this time using signals from his forehead detected using a headband with three sensors. This new approach became the foundation for the technology that became known as "Brainfingers".

In 1993 Discovery Channel TV producers who wanted to do a story about the brain-controlled roll axis simulator found out about the sailboat control. The documentary became the first of a series called “Scientific American Frontiers” moderated by Alan Alda. The repercussions of the show led to an article published in the Boston Globe called “Mind Control, A thought can move computers to action” and made the world aware of Brainfingers and led to a flood of requests from individuals seeking a method to overcome disabilities. Subsequent media coverage included "Good Morning America" showing three musicians wearing Brainfinger headbands and performing as a jazz ensemble for the show as well as a wheelchair control broadcasted in the UK

Prior to the development of the nia, Brainfingers has primarily been used as a method of computer control for people with disabilities. People with brain trauma or lost limbs, stroke patients, arthritics, dyslexics, and people with cerebral palsy or neuromuscular disabilities learned to communicate using Brainfingers with their computers. In 2002 Michael McIntosh joined Brainfingers and added knowledge of video game development. He and Dr Junker implemented a control approach to game play that would allow the Brainfingers user to play many video games. In 2003, Discovery Channel producers included a segment in a show called “Kapow Superhero Science”. In this segment Michael demonstrated control of the video game Oni.One of the repeats of this show marked the birthdate of the interaction with OCZ and the subsequent development of the nia.

Last Updated ( Apr 08, 2009 at 12:58 PM )
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