HSE Team Wins International Hackathon with BCI Game
A team of post-graduate students and researchers from the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making have invented a multiplayer BCI game, which is won by the player who best controls a robot with their mind.
The IEEE International Symposium on Video and Audio Signal Processing in the Context of Neurotechnologies took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 26th and 27th and featured a hackathon, also called the IEEE Brain Data Bank Challenge. Representing HSE at the hackathon were Dmitry Altukhov, Nikolay Smetanin, and Alexandra Kuznetsova, all researchers with the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making. The three are also part of a neurovisualization methods group headed by Alexey Ossadtchi.
The team developed a game in which two people compete to control a robot that is made from Legos and pours drinks into two glasses. After receiving commands from a player, the robot tilts the bottle over a glass. If the bottle is tipped enough, the drink is poured into the glass. The player’s goal is to pour the entire contents of the bottle into their glass. Players can send the robot three different commands: left, right, or stop.
The commands are given to the robot through a brain-computer interface that recognises imaginary movements of the left or right arm. For example, in order to command the robot to tilt the bottle to the left, the players have to think of themselves moving their left arm. In order to move to the right, the players think of moving their right arm, and in order to stop they just have to relax. The player who best concentrates on the thought-up movements pulls the bottle in their direction with the most strength and, as a result, wins.
HSE’s team placed first and took home the grand prize of $500.
Despite the fact that the task is presented in the form of a game, multiplayer BCIs open up new areas of research and allow for important applications to be created.
By analysing the process of a game in which users can both compete against and cooperate with one another (by trying to tilt a glass fastest, for instance), we can study mechanisms of social collaboration from a new angle. And from a technical point of view, having several users allows for a larger number of distinct commands to be given and for complex devices to be co-controlled.
In our opinion, the most promising application lies in therapy for those whose motor functions have been impaired as a result of brain damage. As demonstrated in recent studies, using games to rehabilitate patients after a stroke leads to a quicker recovery of motor activity. Further, using a multiplayer BCI for rehabilitation not only requires significant involvement of the patient’s sensorimotor system in carrying out tasks, but it also fosters social collaboration among several patients in the form of a game, thereby positively impacting recovery.
The HSE Centre for Cognition and Decision Making together with a group of other Russian research centres is about to begin work on creating a mathematical model of the human brain. With its help scientists will be able to study the processes which take place in the brain and brain disease. It could be used for medical purposes in the future.