Every Sylvester Stallone fan knows that Rocky Balboa wins the final match against Ivan Drago in the classic 1985 film “Rocky IV.”
If you were watching the movie while wearing a MindWave headset, the bout could go either way. Concentrate hard enough on the fight scene, and Rocky knocks out Drago. Lose focus, and the victory goes to the ruthless Russian.
MindWave is a new device that literally reads minds, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Oct. 4 issue. Developed by NeuroSky, a closely held company in San Jose, California, the headset features an electrode that rests on the forehead and detects the minuscule electrical impulses generated inside the brain as it experiences thoughts and emotions. Those brain waves are relayed by a radio signal to a computer, where they’re interpreted by software.
“My wife and daughter love ‘Avatar,’” said NeuroSky’s Chief Executive Officer Stanley Yang. (Spoiler Alert) “Every time they watched it they said, ‘I wish Sigourney Weaver had lived.’ That would be a fun experience if you could see it actually happen because you wished it.”
Though James Cameron hasn’t come calling yet, cinephiles can soon test-drive a MindWave. On Nov. 11, NeuroSky will start selling a $99 kit for use at home. The package will include a headset and a CD-ROM with a brief training program and a short video, produced by London studio Treite Labs. Treite developed the Myndplay software that interprets signals from the headset and adjusts the story to match the viewer’s thoughts. The company is producing several more short films for MindWave that will be available for download, Treite Managing Director Tre Azam said. The library will be limited to short films for the foreseeable future.
“You have to take baby steps first,” Yang said.
NeuroSky’s technology has been used since mid-2009 in toys like Mattel Inc.’s Mindflex and Uncle Milton Industries Inc.’s Star Wars Force Trainer, both of which let kids mentally manipulate a small ball while it floats on a cushion of air. Medical researchers are experimenting with similar systems to allow disabled patients to control wheelchairs, prosthetics and computers with their thoughts.
When NeuroSky demonstrated the MindWave system for a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter, the Treite videos weren’t ready, so the company re-edited old films, including “Rocky IV,” to create multiple endings. In a pivotal scene from the 1994 hit-man thriller “The Professional,” one of the heroes aims her sniper rifle at a bad guy. The viewer ensures a kill shot by staying relaxed, the ideal mind state for steady hands and accurate shooting. Too much intensity and she misses.
Yang’s aspiration is for movie studios to produce original films tailored to the technology. Ultimately, he said, theaters will be able to read the minds of an entire audience, whose thoughts would influence the feature film in progress.
Getting to that point is a challenge, in part because theaters would need to purchase headsets and digital projectors capable of picking up radio signals. Studios would have to film multiple story lines and endings, said Nathan Mayfield, co-founder of Hoodlum, a production company that creates interactive games and videos.
“You’re halving your value in some ways” by creating two versions of the same show or movie, he said.
David Westendorf, NeuroSky’s vice president for marketing, admits it’s a long road to Hollywood success, and it will take at least two years to get a feature film into theaters.
“You have to evangelize,” he said, “and get the right producers and have the right spitball sessions.”