Tetraplegics Dominate Avatar Races
Thanks to brain-computer interface training, tetraplegics are now winning live virtual racing games.
(Racing game avatars controlled)
The participants were trained to improve control of an avatar (a person-substitute shown on a computer screen) in a virtual racing game. The experiment used a brain-computer interface (BCI), which uses electrodes on the head to pick up control signals from a person’s brain.
Each participant (called a “pilot”) controlled an on-screen avatar in a three-part race. This required mastery of separate commands for spinning, jumping, sliding, and walking without stumbling.
After training for several months, in Oct. 8, 2016, the two pilots participated (on the “Brain Tweakers” team) in Cybathlon in Zurich, Switzerland — the first international para-Olympics for disabled individuals in control of bionic assistive technology.*
The BCI-based race consisted of four brain-controlled avatars competing in a virtual racing game called “Brain Runners.” To accelerate each pilot’s avatar, they had to issue up to three mental commands (or intentional idling) on corresponding color-coded track segments.
Science fiction fans can easily imagine this scenario, thanks to building blocks like the
communications implant from (1981) by Oath of Fealty Pournelle and Niven, and of course references to computer avatars from Snow Crash (1992) by
Neal Stephenson .
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