At the University of Washington, researchers have developed a game that effectively links three brains to work together on one problem. Called BrainNet, the game resembles Tetris in that different shapes have to be rotated and placed so that a line on the bottom of the screen is completed. Two people see the entire screen, while the third only the shape that has to be moved around. Everyone wears electroencephalography (EEG) caps, while the third player, the one that can actually make final decisions on what to do in the game, also has a magnetic neurostimulator coil attached to the back of the head.
During play, the two people that see the entirety of the game are presented with options, such as whether to rotate a given shape. They decide on the best option and look toward a flashing light next to a “Yes” or “No” printed on the screen. As this happens, brainwave data gathered by the EEG caps of the two players are processed by the computer. The flashing lights trigger certain brain patterns, so the computer can determine which option the two people have chosen.
The choice is sent over to the “Receiver,” the individual with the neurostimulator that can generate signals within the occipital cortex of the brain. If the received answer is a “Yes,” the individual experiences glowing objects, as though there’s lights appearing in the visual periphery. “This coil stimulates the part of the brain that translates signals from the eyes,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a UW assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, or I-LABS. “We essentially ‘trick’ the neurons in the back of the brain to spread around the message that they have received signals from the eyes. Then participants have the sensation that bright arcs or objects suddenly appear in front of their eyes.”
Based on this glow, the third player can finally make a move, which of course is performed by looking toward the correct flashing light and creating the appropriate brain waves. Before the final move is complete, though, the other two players can review the decision and send over a correcting message.
Here’s a video report from NPR about the research, with the reporter trying out the game:
Study in journal Scientific Reports: BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface for Direct Collaboration Between Brains