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No Peeking: Humans Play Computer Game ­sing Only Direct Brain Stimulation

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An experimental subject.

Test subjects in a University of Washington experiment navigated simple mazes based solely on inputs delivered to their brains by a magnetic coil placed at the back of the skull.

Credit: University of Washington

A University of Washington (UW) experiment shows how humans can interact with virtual realities via direct brain stimulation.

As part of a two-dimensional computer game, test subjects navigated simple mazes based on the presence or absence of phosphenes. The researchers provided the visual inputs, which are perceived as blobs or bars of light, using a magnetic coil placed near the skull to directly and noninvasively stimulate a specific area of the brain.

The subjects made the right moves in the mazes 92% of the time when they received the input via direct brain stimulation, compared to 15% of the time when they lacked that guidance; they also improved over time, which suggests they were able to learn to better detect the artificial stimuli.

Virtual reality currently makes use of displays, headsets, and goggles, but ultimately the brain is what creates our reality, says UW professor and director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering Rajesh Rao. "We look at this as a very small step toward the grander vision of providing rich sensory input to the brain directly and noninvasively," Rao says. "Over the long term, this could have profound implications for assisting people with sensory deficits while also paving the way for more realistic virtual reality experiences."

From UW Today
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