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Neuroscientists have created a computer game based on table tennis that people can play using nothing more than the power of their minds. It is hoped that the technology will one day train people to generate neural signals that could control a wheelchair or communication device.
Each 'brain pong' player lies in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, usually reserved for medical brain scans. After a short period of training, the players are able to make their ping-pong bat move up and down the screen by concentrating on specific thoughts. Sophisticated data analysis software makes the system responsive enough for two players to compete in real time.
"It's exciting that for the first time we have two subjects whose brains are interacting like this," says Rainer Goebel, a neuroscientist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who described the work on 27 August at the EuroScience Open Forum in Stockholm, Sweden.
Other researchers have shown that it is possible to control cursors on a computer screen by detecting electrical signals from the brain. But this is the first two-player game that exploits brain activity. The improved sensitivity of fMRI also makes it much easier to learn to control the bat, says Goebel.