News Detail

The work of Andrea Stocco, Chantel Prat, and other co-authors, on BrainNet, is the subject of this article in UW News.

How you and your friends can play a video game together using only your minds

University of Washington researchers created a method for two people help a third person solve a task using only their minds. Heather Wessel, a recent UW graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (left), and Savannah Cassis, a UW undergraduate in psychology (right) sent information about a Tetris-like game from their brains over the internet to UW psychology graduate student Theodros Haile’s brain. Haile could then manipulate the game with his mind.

Telepathic communication might be one step closer to reality thanks to new research from the University of Washington. A team created a method that allows three people to work together to solve a problem using only their minds.

In BrainNet, three people play a Tetris-like game using a brain-to-brain interface. This is the first demonstration of two things: a brain-to-brain network of more than two people, and a person being able to both receive and send information to others using only their brain. The team published its results April 16 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, though this research previously attracted media attention after the researchers posted it September to the preprint site arXiv.

“Humans are social beings who communicate with each other to cooperate and solve problems that none of us can solve on our own,” said corresponding author Rajesh Rao, the CJ and Elizabeth Hwang professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and a co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. “We wanted to know if a group of people could collaborate using only their brains. That’s how we came up with the idea of BrainNet: where two people help a third person solve a task.”

As in Tetris, the game shows a block at the top of the screen and a line that needs to be completed at the bottom. Two people, the Senders, can see both the block and the line but can’t control the game. The third person, the Receiver, can see only the block but can tell the game whether to rotate the block to successfully complete the line. Each Sender decides whether the block needs to be rotated and then passes that information from their brain, through the internet and to the brain of the Receiver. Then the Receiver processes that information and sends a command — to rotate or not rotate the block — to the game directly from their brain, hopefully completing and clearing the line.

“To deliver the message to the Receiver, we used a cable that ends with a wand that looks like a tiny racket behind the Receiver’s head. 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.”

Read the entire article here.