Board of Imagination: A mind-controlled skateboard. Seriously
Alert: The video you are about to see contains no camera tricks or CGI of any kind. This skateboard is really, truly, controlled with your brain.
Molly WoodFormer Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
First, they wowed CES with their Board of Awesomeness, a Microsoft Kinect-powered skateboard that the rider controls with various gestures. They parlayed that into a shopping cart that can follow you around a grocery store, scan your groceries, and possibly even check you out automatically. But all that was just January's work.
These days, the Austin-based Chaotic Moon Lab--the R&D arm of the larger studio--has taken the same skateboard I rode in Las Vegas in January and made a few X-Men-style modifications. Now it's powered by your mind.
The obviously named Board of Imagination integrates a neuroheadset from a company called Emotiv, with a Samsung tablet running Windows 8, which is in turn connected to the skateboard's motor. The headset translates thought into electrical circuitry that's routed through the tablet, into the motor, and powers the board. Simply put, you think--it goes.
As with the Kinect-powered board and shopping cart, the tech at work isn't particularly new, and it doesn't have to be. The point is to use the technology in an innovative way, to push the boundaries of possibility (and stunt work), and to create a proof of concept that can become a skate-springboard to another piece of future tech.
Whurley, the general manager at Chaotic Moon Lab who uses just one name, hasn't said what project will arise out of the Board of Imagination, but the lab has promised a project a month, so I expect to have more news soon.
In the meantime, riding the board was one of the more amazing experiences of my career. I've seen the mind-controlled game interfaces before, but actually using thought to create motion was completely visceral and amazing. And harder than you might expect!
Whurley compares the level of focus required to something like meditation--stopping is particularly hard, because you're not just thinking "stop," you're actually trying to imagine yourself at rest, in a stopped position. Plus, if you forget to keep thinking about going forward, you might actually stop. Or you might find that you're thinking things that you're not aware of thinking, which are then affecting the outcome. For example, after I jumped off the board in a panic at 10 miles per hour, I apparently subconsciously sabotaged my next ride--I was capable of 10 miles per hour, but instead trundled along at a pretty sedate four or so. Whurley told me I was blocking myself from going faster out of an underlying fear.
Next time, I found that simply thinking "go faster" caused me to, in fact, "go faster." And I mean, really. How amazing is that?