How VR Could Tap Into Your Brain

Controllers could be a thing of the past

  • A new beta program combines a brain interface with a virtual reality headset.
  • The neural interface could make daily living easier for patients with brain injuries. 
  • In the future, a brain interface could allow you to control a headset without clunky manual controllers.
Varjo Galea headset


Your next virtual reality (VR) headset could interface with your brain. 

Varjo is bringing a neural interface to its latest VR headset. The device packs a variety of sensors to measure data from the user's brain, eyes, heart, skin, and muscles and is intended to research how VR can augment human thinking. 

"Researchers and enterprise companies leveraging the combo of neurotechnology and VR opens up a host of new and rich data that will allow developers to have a greater understanding of how an individual reacts to virtual worlds and experiences in real-time," Tristan Cotter, GM, Americas of Varjo, told Lifewire in an email interview. "The key to this is that with VR, you're able to immerse users into any virtual environment or scenario."

Reading Your Mind

Varjo is teaming up with OpenBCI to produce the Galea, a hardware and software platform that combines brain-computer interface (BCI) tech with extended reality (XR) headsets. In July, sales will open to the public, but the price has not yet been announced. 

Conor Russomanno, CEO of OpenBCI, said in an email to Lifewire that virtual reality and augmented reality have been attracting attention from scientific researchers from many fields. The scientists use the headsets to collect data and run experiments in more realistic settings while still maintaining tight control over stimuli and environments. 

"For neuroscience especially, the notion of a "closed-loop" system, where the stimuli being delivered can be modified in real-time based on the physiological reactions of the subject, represents a dramatic departure from the traditional one-way, "stimulate and record" methods traditionally employed," he added.

The brain interface could also make daily living easier for patients. Adding VR to brain-computer interfaces could let users experience a broader range of sensory input, which could be used for rehabilitation following neurological injury or disease, James Giordano, a professor of neurology, neurotechnology, and neuroethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"VR—BCI systems could be used to provide a real-time inter-individual exchange of multisensory information so as to create "quasi—shared" experiences between individuals," Giordano said. "This could allow for "remote simulated realities" wherein individuals could experience the effects of VR-BCI activated neurological networks through long-distance signaling."

Better Computing Through Your Brain

Brain interfaces for computers are still in the research phase, and VR could help advance the field, Chris Harrison, a professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University told Lifewire via email. Neural research often involves showing people images on computer screens and measuring the response, but VR is much more immersive and could lead to richer and more realistic BCI signals.

"If experiences like games could know the state of your mind (emotion, boredom, excitement, focus), they could dynamically tailor experiences," Harrison added. "For instance, [they could] time that jump scare perfectly for maximum effect. Social VR experiences, where you have an avatar, could also incorporate things like smiles, blinking, and eyebrow raises by sensing effect via BCI, instead of having to put other sensors in the headset itself."

The key to this is that with VR, you’re able to immerse users into any virtual environment or scenario.

In the future, a brain interface could make the VR experience much less clumsy or even remove the need for standard hand controllers, Harrison said. 

"BCI can be much more intimate—know your state of mind, know what you are thinking," he added. "You can think of it as the most immersive sort of sensing. So then you have both sides of the coin—immersive output and immersive input—that is going to lead to the metaverse."

VR has a long way to go before replacing desktops and laptops, Harrison said, "but I think having computing get a window into your soul (via BCI) will increase the human-computer bandwidth, which is currently pretty slow. Keyboards, hand gestures, voice input, and the other methods we use today are so much slower than we think. BCI could change that."

AI brain and network on programming code background

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Don't expect to control your computer with your thoughts right away, though. The current generation of Galea is targeted at companies, developers, researchers, and labs. The company plans to use the program to learn more about where the consumer applications are so that it can roll out simplified, lower-cost versions in a couple of years. 

"This technology has the potential to unlock new understandings of how the mind works and create completely new ways of interacting with technology. [Thus, it] could have many positive impacts [on] many different circumstances," Cotter said.

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