Mind games: The emerging brain-powered possibilities of AR and VR

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Most people you pass on the street have a general understanding of augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR). But a team of undergrads at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by Brian Moynihan of the UNC Health Sciences Library, are not only creating a new way of thinking about these technologies, but exploring new possibilities for thinking with them.

The students and Moynihan developed the Brain VR project, which combines electroencephalogram (EEG) data with AR/VR and allows users to control a video game using only their minds. Users train the system by thinking “up” or “down,” enabling them to fly across a virtual landscape using only their thoughts. While many people are familiar with the capabilities of AR/VR, Moynihan wanted to bring this technology into the classroom to challenge students to explore different possibilities for how the technology could be used.

“I’m interested in how we use technology to improve health, particularly with wearable devices that incorporate biofeedback,” says Moynihan, Head of Health Technology and Informatics at the UNC Health Sciences Library. “One tool is the EEG monitor, which uses four points on the head to capture brain wave data. I wanted the students to figure out how to control the game using just two states, thinking up and thinking down.”

The Brain VR student team included Carolina undergrads Jonathan Monroe, Mark Molinaro, Ronald Ding, and Grady Hale.

“The students had to do a lot of groundbreaking work over the semester to make the Brain VR project come together,” says Moynihan. “From pulling and figuring out the data from the EEG headbands, to translating that data into code to make it work in a virtual reality environment.”

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