(WIRED) -- Along with the figure skating, ice hockey and snowboarding, another event will compete for attention at the Winter Olympics in Canada this month.
A Canadian company has created what it calls the "largest thought-controlled computing installation." It's an experiment that lets visitors to the Olympics use their brainwaves to control the lights at three major landmarks in Canada, including Niagara Falls.
"When people put on the headsets and find themselves increasing the brightness of the lights by just thinking about it, you can almost see their brains explode," says Trevor Coleman, chief operating officer for InteraXon, the company that has created this installation.
As consumers get more comfortable with going beyond the keyboard and the mouse to interact with their computers, companies are looking for alternate ways to make the experience better.
Already, touch and voice recognition have become a major part of the user interface in smartphones, and harnessing brainwaves or other biological data is slowly emerging as a third option, especially in gaming.
Companies such as NeuroSky offer headphones that promise to translate the gamer's brainwaves into action on screen. A biometrics company called Innerscope is helping Wired host a geeked-out Super Bowl party. And even Microsoft is working on alternate forms of input; its Project Natal promises to add gesture recognition to Xbox 360 games later this year.
InteraXon's installation is spread across three sites: Toronto's CN Tower, Ottawa's Parliament Buildings and Niagara Falls. All three locations have two chairs set up, each with its own headset.
The headsets have an external probe that touches the wearer's forehead to measure the baseline brain activity. The chairs are rigged to offer tactile feedback as users enter the desired brain state.
The headset measures the brain's electrical output and reacts to alpha waves, associated with relaxation, and beta waves, which indicate concentration.
As users relax or focus their thoughts, the computer sends a message to the site they are viewing. InteraXon's software translates users' thoughts to commands that will change the lighting display.
For instance, by concentrating, users can make the lights at the CN Tower spin faster or change the brightness of the lights at Niagara Falls.
It's easy enough once users get started, says Coleman.
"To achieve the beta state we ask users to focus on things like an object ahead and its details, while for an alpha response we ask them to take a deep breath and relax to let their mind go," he says. "But after a minute or two of trying it, we found most users no longer require the physical cues," says Coleman.
Over the two weeks that the exhibit will be open, InteraXon expects more than 2,000 visitors to try it out.
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