Interview – Nam Do, CEO Emotiv

namdowebI’ve been following the progress of Emotiv for a couple of years now, for two reasons. The first is a parochial one – the founders started out in Australia and have created some real waves with their work. The second is more obvious: computer-brain interfaces are an obvious evolution for virtual environments and Emotiv’s product is one of the first ones available for consumers at a reasonable price.

Emotiv CEO, Nam Do, is in Sydney for the XMediaLab Global Media Cultures so I took the opportunity to nab him for a few quick questions on the EPOC headset about to be released:

Lowell: For the newly initiated, how would you describe Emotiv’s mission as a company?

Nam: Since the beginning, man-machine interaction has always been in conscious form. We have always consciously direct machine to perform different tasks for us. However, interaction between human are much more complex, we take in not only conscious communication but also read each other’s expression and feel other’s emotions. Our mission is to create a new form of interface that take man-machine interaction a lot closer to that of human to human. We have created a neuro-technology that allow computer to not only read our conscious thoughts but also understands our non-conscious expressions and emotions. It’s a headset called Emotiv EPOC that reads your brainwave and allows you to control application with your mind.

Lowell: How have pre-orders of the EPOC been going?

Nam: Pre-orders are great, we have a very strong and growing fan base that has been followed and supported us for a long time. The orders are coming in very strong and with only 2 weeks, we almost fill up our limited release for Christmas. And I’m talking only about US market and direct order from our website. It does feel good!

Lowell: Can you confirm which applications / games / worlds are actively working to support Emotiv products?

Nam: We have a few applications/games that we bundle with the headset as well as we are going through testing our 3rd party’s applications to include in the box at launch. Users will also have access to a website where our developers around the world uploading their applications, much like the iPhone store.

Lowell: Are you able to outline the Emotiv product map over the coming year?

Nam: Making the product better and more and more applications ALL THE TIME.

Lowell: Are you meeting much skepticism on the efficacy of the EPOC?

Nam: Surprisingly no. We expected a lot more skepticism for our 1st release as this is a totally new technology. You have to remember that although it has a lot of potential, it’s like the computer in the 70s, you can’t expect broadband internet and photo realistic graphics yet. We have released our SDK headset a few months ago and the feedback is actually really good, people are amazed at what the headset can do.

Lowell: Do you have data on the ‘accuracy’ of the EPOC i.e. are there any objective measurements on the proportion of the time that emotions are translated effectively versus not effectively?

Nam: We have 3 different suites of detections call Expressiv, Affectiv and Cognitiv. The latency is ranging from 10ms for Expressiv to about 150ms for Cognitiv. Accuracy is also depends on how many cognitiv actions you are trying to do at a time, if it’s 2, then the accuracy is super high, it gets less accurate when you try to add more actions in too quick before you mastered the 1st 2. This is has a lot to do with the ability of making your different thoughts distinctive enough as well so you can see different people with different mental abilities which make it really interesting.

Lowell: Has there been interest from the developer community in the SDK, and if so, can you give some examples of new ways the Emotiv IP is being explored?

Nam: There is huge interest from the development community, we now have over 6,000 developers worldwide from giant multi-national corporations to independent developers. We expect to see a lot of interesting applications over the next few months. Lots of developers are submitting their applications to bundle with the consumer headset.

Lowell: The Emotiv forums seem to have some significant dissent around the pricing of the developer SDK and its highly proprietary structure. Is Emotiv reviewing its pricing at all, or do you have a response to claims that the cost is inhibiting widespread developer takeup?

Nam: Yes, we have a few people disapointed with the pricing of full RAW EEG data at the begining when it was $25,000. We since then restruture the cost to allow developers that interested in raw EEG data to get access to what they want (not neccessary full 16 channels) at a much lower cost (starting at $2,500). You have to remember that anything with 1/2 the resolution of our heaset out there is priced at around minimum $50K. Since then, we have seen a huge pick up in the number of people buying raw EEG data version of the SDK. So the answer it yes, we have reviewed and changed the pricing and it is now very attractive to developers.


We’ll be reviewing the EPOC in the near future, in the meantime if you want to see the EPOC in action, check out the YouTube channel or this snippet from The New Inventors earlier this year:

Over to you: what are your thoughts on the EPOC? Does it appeal to you as an interface?

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Gamasutra – GDC: Emotiv Knows What You’re Thinking. “On Thursday at the 2008 Game Developers Conference, Julian Wixson and a small panel of associates described and demonstrated the Emotiv headset and SDK, suggesting how a developer might incorporate the technology into a new or even quite finished production. The svelte Emotiv headset uses an array of sixteen EEG sensors to detect electrical impulses in the scalp. These signals are then interpreted by a suite of tools, each with its own range of applications”.

2. Tech.Blorge – The government begins plans to monitor World of Warcraft. “If you’re a die-hard World of Warcraft player, you probably aren’t too concerned about having your online identity known by others; how would you feel if you knew that big brother was monitoring your MMO action? The U.S. government is beginning a program that will monitor the most popular online MMOs so as to identify terrorists online”.

3. – Virtually Divorced From Reality. “It started with World War II games on the computer. He would spend hours flying jets, fighting the Germans. And then his interests changed. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and he’d be at the computer looking at women’s pictures,” said Jennifer of her ex-husband. “It was lonely for both of us.” Her ex became far more interested in his fantasy online virtual world, with its endless supply of pornography, than in his real family”.

4. BBC News – Virtuality and reality ‘to merge’. “Computers the size of blood cells will create fully immersive virtual realities by 2033, leading inventor Ray Kurzweil has predicted. Exponential growth in processing power and the shrinking of technology would see the development of microscopic computers, he said”.

5. Information Week – Turning Work Into Play Is No Game. “It sounds like techno-utopian silliness to say that businesses need to learn from online games how to make tedious knowledge-work more enjoyable. But many knowledge-work jobs are so deadly dull that the typical worker lasts just nine months — in call centers, for example. Extend that by a few months, and businesses stand to save piles of money, said Byron Reeves, a professor in the department of communication at Stanford University”.

6. BBC News – Virtual and real blur in Eve Online. “Virtual worlds are becoming increasingly rich and diverse environments with complex social and economic eco-systems. Science fiction trading game Eve Online is one of the most dynamic worlds, with its own economists helping players get to grips with the intricacies”.

7. – Home is “best-looking multiplayer world”. “The creative director of Sony’s Home project has told in an exclusive interview to be published in full next week that he believes the PlayStation 3 virtual world platform is the “best-looking” and most “user-friendly” multiplayer experience he’s seen so far. Talking on a recent trip to Monaco for the Imagina conference, Ron Festejo explained his feeling that other virtual worlds, such as Second Life, were garish, while other online experiences were simply too hardcore for most people”.

8. ZDNet – Solving the Virtual World Interoperability Problem. “Despite the popularity of Second Life, there are in fact several such services on the market today. Enabling interoperabilty between There, Entropia Universe, Moove, Habbo Hotel, and Kaneva could go along way towards promoting the Virtual World industry. IBM researcher Ian Hughes’ excellent post poses the question of what that interoperability might look like”.

9. Mediaweek – Disney Goes Virtual Kids’ ‘Studios’. “Disney has announced the formation of Disney Online Studios, a new division within the Walt Disney Internet Group focused on virtual worlds, gaming and social networking initiatives aimed at kids. The announcement comes as the company’s latest virtual world, the young girl-aimed Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow, was previewed during Toy Fair in New York on Feb. 19”.

10. ZDNet – Is open source giving Second Life a second life?. “Linden Labs, whose Second Life is so cool yet so lacking in profits it’s been lampooned in an IBM ad, sent out an e-mail alert this week boasting that open source is giving the company, well, a second life”.

Get Emotiv with virtual worlds

Emotiv is an Australian-founded company working “to introduce the immediacy of thought to the human-machine dialogue” – which is a nice way of saying they want to develop a better way of using the human mind / face to control computer functions.

Put simply, a headset is worn and particular movements / expressions and emotions will have particular computer effects. Using virtual worlds as an example, the plan is for you to be able to make your avatar much more human through Emotiv – if you smile, your avatar smiles. The uses are obvious in the virtual world context and if it’s done well, likely to capture enormous market share.

All that said, one of the advantages of a virtual world is the ability to be something different. If you’re feeling angry in real life and want to escape, do you really want your avatar to be angry as well?

We’ll be following Emotiv closely and thanks to Brad Howarth for the heads-up.

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