Edmonton·Audio

U of A students create video game that uses your brain as a controller

A team of students at the University of Alberta has created a video game that you can control with your mind.

‘Neurotech is kind of a field that's blowing up right now’

Psychology student Nicole Wlasitz, one of the students on the team that created AlphaBlaster, plays the shooter game on Aug. 28. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

In the quest for an international prize, a team of University of Alberta students came together to create a video game.

But it's not like the average video game. 

Their simple shooter computer game, called AlphaBlaster, uses your brain as a controller.

The undergraduate students formed the club NeurAlbertaTech last year to compete in NeuroTechX, an international competition that encourages students to collaborate on neurotechnology projects.

Psychology student Nicole Wlasitz, one of the students on the team, said the technology —which uses brain waves and brain patterns for various uses— is a growing industry. 

"Neurotech is kind of a field that's blowing up right now," Wlasitz said in an interview aired on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Wednesday. "So that's exciting for us as students because we're learning about it in our classrooms."

Fourth-year psychology student Abdel Tayem is president of the University of Alberta's NeurAlbertaTech club. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Abdel Tayem, fourth-year psychology student and president of the club, said the lure of creating the game was the ability to take information from the brain and use it to do something on a computer.  

"This is an experience that you normally wouldn't be able to get anywhere else, especially outside of campus," Tayem said.

2D shooter game

The 2D shooter game gives the player a limited number of bullets, as an unlimited number of demons crawl across the screen towards the character.

Shooting is done by using a brain-sensing headset, called an EEG headband. It sits on the player's forehead and the back of the ears, picking up the electrical activity from the brain. 

The headbands are used commercially for meditation and stress management, and were provided by NeuroTechX. 

Wlasitz said the possibilities of neurotechnology are wide, including to help people with limited mobility, such as robotic arms controlled using brain input. 

"And then it's also simpler things like our project, where you're using input from the brain or just from the nervous system and you're interfacing that somehow with technology," she said.

"It's really exciting for people who do have limited mobility or aren't able to interact with the computer in the normal keyboard and mouse kind of input way ... so the doors that this opens for gaming for them is really huge." 

The team created the video game in just two months as an entry into the international neurotechnology contest.

They placed fifth out of ten teams. Other teams were from McGill University, University of Toronto, École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The team has made the code for AlphaBlaster available online.

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi

Reporter/editor

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Stephen Cook

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