Ditch handheld controllers: neural gaming with your mind
What does the future look like for gaming controllers and what is the current situation?
Since the early days of home consoles, gaming controllers have taken a familiar form. Of course, there have been occasional oddballs—who could forget the Samba De Amigo Maracas, the ASCII GameCube controller, or the Nintendo 64’s third arm?
For the most part, controllers have used the same components: joysticks, D-pads, buttons, and triggers. However, as gaming continues to test the new horizons of VR and AR, we’re seeing a whole new array of altogether different controllers hit the market. And they are a lot more innovative than just another layout of the same old buttons.
Meet your newest of the gaming controllers: your brain
New gaming controllers like Brink Bionics’s Impulse Neuro-controller and NextMind’s eponymous brain-sensor reimagine what a controller needs to be. They ditch all forms of traditional input and instead rely on signals from your body. Moreover, they allow potential enhancements in reaction time, latency, and much more.
Let’s step back for a moment. What do we mean when we say that your brain will be your next controller?
Surprisingly, this technology has been around for quite a while. Known as brain-computer interfaces, these devices bypass the need for embodied movement.
Instead, they take direct communication from the central nervous system’s electrical impulses. Then, a computer reads your actions and intentions without needing you to actually perform them.
In short, imagine traversing Skyrim by just looking at the screen; envisioning when to move, turn, attack; and taking on a cheeky bit of pickpocketing. It puts older gaming controllers to shame.
While this technology has been around for a while, those in the consumer market aren’t familiar with it just yet. With its key use cases remaining firmly within the realms of scientific research, it provides treatment and assistive devices for those lacking mobility.
But we may be reaching a tipping point, as these technologies are slowly finding their way to the marketplace.
NextMind’s brain-sensing gaming controller
NextMind’s eponymous device is perhaps the most exciting of the new gaming controllers. It’s captured the imaginations of click-bait-ready YouTubers—undoubtedly a shrewdly planned bout of publicity from the company. But, to be fair, the hype comes with good reason.
NextMind’s discreet device is among the least invasive seen to date, at least in the consumer sphere, with the phone-size device attaching directly to the back of a user’s head. As it result, its sensors provide direct access to your unconscious brain signals.
Pairing this with the apps provided by NextMind, user content, and the powerful tools in the provided Software Development Kit (SDK), it’s clear that NextMind’s device has already caught the attention and imagination of enthusiasts.
That said, it’s not yet for consumers. Instead, NextMind released a Dev Kit, prompting creatives, institutions, and companies to take their first steps into developing mind-controlled inputs.
Of course, this means that there is a real drought of software compatible with NextMind, for now.
Brink Bionics’s Impulse Neurocontroller
Thus, gamers will perhaps be much more interested in Brink Bionics’s Impulse Neurocontroller, which not only boasts far wider applicability but also may be the perfect device to improve your abilities in your favorite online titles.
This controller takes a different approach to neural interfacing, leaving the brain behind and instead opting to take note of the electrical signals passing through your hand. Instead of being an all-out replacement for traditional gaming controllers, the Neurocontroller simply wants to make your mouse clicks precious milliseconds faster.
Moreover, this controller uses a mixture of your biological signals and machine learning. As a result, it predicts exactly when you’re going to click the mouse. Eradicating delay, it takes your muscles to activate and actually do the clicking.
While some gamers may scoff at the device’s selling point of providing mouse inputs at an average of 80 milliseconds faster than without the device, hardcore and professional gamers into shooters know the true effect such seemingly minute timeframes can have.
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Don’t ditch your gaming controller just yet
With these new neural controllers energizing the market and theory behind gaming inputs, don’t ditch your good-old controllers just yet. While exciting, these technologies are still in their infancy, with companies like NextMind acting as first movers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives.
From VR to traditional gaming, new systems of control have slowly creeped their way into the peripheral of the gaming world. From eye-tracking and finger-tracking to haptic feedback and innovative one-offs like Before Your Eyes’s remarkable blink-based control scheme, it’s clear that the gaming controllers we know and love have competition.
While we may have to wait a while for these fringe controllers to go mainstream, it seems like we’re on the precipice. So it’s important to keep our eyes and minds open for the next big thing.