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Emotiv - Control Gameplay With Your Thoughts, Expressions & Emotions

Today we showcase an exciting and pioneering technology startup from Australia, Emotiv Systems - Control Gameplay With Your Thoughts, Expressions & Emotions. It is co-founded by Nam Do, Professor Allan Snyder, Dr. Neil Weste and Tan Le, president of Emotiv Systems.

I recently did an email based interview with president Tan Le on the progress of their venture. This is what she has to say:

- Please tell us about yourself, your background and your interests?
Before joining Emotiv, I, along with Emotiv Systems CEO, Nam Do, co-founded and ran SASme, a pioneer in providing SMPP platforms and one of the companies responsible for the creation of Australia's SMS application market. I’ve also worked with one of Australia's leading law firms, Freehills.

In 1998, I was named Young Australian of the Year and voted one of Australia's 30 Most Successful Women Under 30. I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws (with Honors) from Monash University.

I also was a Goodwill Ambassador for Australia in Asia and a Patron of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program. I’ve been an Ambassador for the Status of Women since 2001, and I’ve also been appointed to several Boards, including Plan International Australia, Australian Citizenship Council, National Committee for Human Rights Education in Australia, and RMIT Business in Entrepreneurship.

- Please tell us about your venture/company?
Founded in 2003, Emotiv Systems is a pioneer in brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Its mission is to create the ultimate interface for the next generation of man-machine interaction. It does this by evolving the interaction between human beings and electronic devices beyond the limits of conscious interface. Emotiv creates technologies that allow machines to take both conscious and non-conscious inputs directly from the brain. These technologies include a hardware and software platform that is being licensed to application developers and other third parties worldwide. We recently announced the world’s first consumer neuroheadset, the Emotiv EPOC™ as part of a complete product offering for consumers. Emotiv is headquartered in San Francisco and has R&D facilities in Sydney, Australia.

- What is your key product?
Our key product is the Emotiv EPOC, a neuroheadset that allows players to control gameplay with their thoughts, expressions and emotions. The notion of brain-controlled gaming has long been a dream and a goal of the gaming industry. The Emotiv EPOC is a high-fidelity neurosystem and is the first affordable, wearable, neuroheadset specifically designed for the video gaming industry. Engaging, immersive, and nuanced, Emotiv-inspired game-play will change the face of electronic gameplay by making it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player's mind. The Emotiv EPOC will include the neuroheadset, game content published by Emotiv that showcases the unique features of the headset and access to the Emortal, a next generation online portal that unleashes the full potential of the headset. Consumers can also experience any of their favourite PC games through the neuroheadset, by using the Emotiv EmoKey, which allows the user to link any detection to any action in the game.

- Who are the people behind this and how it started?
Emotiv was founded by four people: Nam Do, Professor Allan Snyder, Dr. Neil Weste and myself. Nam is our CEO and his background is strategic planning and management he’s also an expert in IT and multimedia. Prior to forming Emotiv, Nam co-founded and ran SASme together with me. At the age of nine, Nam was selected to join a special program in mathematics and physics at the National School for Gifted Students in Vietnam. In 1995, Nam won one of Vietnam's most prestigious scholarships for study abroad. In 1996, Nam came to Australia's RMIT University under a scholarship program for students with exceptional academic ability and leadership potential. Nam was honoured in SmartCompany’s list of Australia’s Top 10 digital entrepreneurs in 2007.

Prof. Allan Snyder is an internationally known and recognized neuroscientist. He has been concentrating his energies on this field for the past 20 years. In 2003, he made a major scientific contribution by demonstrating that it is possible to access the non-conscious mind by turning off the conscious mind using trans-cranial magnetic stimulation. He was also the first to describe the way light travels along optical fibres, thereby paving the way for today's worldwide telecommunications network. This historically significant contribution earned him the 2001 Marconi International Prize, the "foremost prize in communication and information technology." He also received prizes such as the 1997 International Australia Prize, the 1996 Massey Prize and medal of the British Institute of Physics and the Thomas Rankin Lyle medal of the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Dr Neil Weste is one of the most successful engineers/entrepreneurs that Australia has ever produced. In 1977 he started his career at Bell Labs, where he worked on early VLSI design tools (i.e., the MULGA suite), and he went on to become the head of the entire Bell Labs VLSI Department. Neil is a pioneer in chip design. His book, The Principle of CMOS and VLSI Design, was the first book on CMOS design and is now considered the bible for all chip designers around the world.

It all started when Nam, Allan and I sat together at a dinner talking about Allan’s research he was doing on autistic people. He talked about the conscious and the non-conscious part of the human brain. We talked about the way humans interact with computers and thought it would be incredible if the next generation of human beings would not only be able to communicate with machines on a conscious, but also on a non-conscious level. This would create a far more natural, intuitive and rich experience for the user. And this became our mission: To create the ultimate interface for the next-generation of man-machine interaction.

- How long it took before it was up and running?
Our company was founded in 2003 and we announced the final form factor of the Emotiv EPOC in February 2008.

- What services it provide it for consumers or customers?
The Emotiv EPOC uses a set of 16 sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expressions. Emotiv uses proprietary, patented algorithms to formulate detections of activities from the reading of EEG signals. These detections can determine a user’s expressions, feelings and thoughts and are broken down into three categories:

The Affectiv™ Suite monitors players’ emotional states in real time, providing an extra dimension to game interaction by allowing the game to respond to players' emotions. It can be used to monitor players’ state of mind and allow developers to tailor the difficulty to suit each situation.

Second, the Cognitiv™ Suite reads and interprets players’ conscious thoughts and intent and can differentiate between multiple conscious thought commands. The Cognitiv suite reads the player’s thoughts and intent, such as lifting an object, and sends commands through the API to levitate the object in the virtual world.

Third, the Expressiv™ Suite uses signals measured by the neuroheadset to interpret players’ facial expressions in real-time. It provides a natural enhancement to game interaction by enabling game characters to mirror the reactions and expressions of the player in real-time, including complex non-verbal expressions.

- What type of customers are you targeting?
Emotiv is currently focusing on developing solutions specifically for the electronic games industry, its solutions will enable games to respond to the players’ emotions and expressions, and allow players to manipulate objects in the game using the power of their thoughts. This entirely new interface will dramatically change the gaming experience by making it more immersive, intuitive and personal.

- How many people are using your services?
The Emotiv EPOC will be launched in the US by the end of the year 2008. So far, we’ve already received several thousand pre-orders for the headset.

Since the announcement of the Emotiv development platform as an open standard, we have received more than 1,500 downloads of the Emotiv SDKLite™ - a free, downloadable tool that provides developers with a complete development environment to take advantage of, and integrate seamlessly with, all the functionalities and features of the Emotiv EPOC.

- What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
Emotiv has developed a very well rounded marketing strategy and plan, utilizing a variety of tools online and offline to reach our targets. For example, through the Emotivate page and the EPOC fan page on Facebook, we have over 500 friends. Additionally, we’ve built a very content rich website for consumers and developers to understand what the company is doing. We are engaging the developer community directly through a media-rich e-newsletter and have a multi-faceted PR campaign incorporating several different markets.

- What government resources have you used to help your business? And have they made an impact?
The Australian Federal Government's Commercial Ready Grant contributed to the funding of breakthrough research activities in Australia.

- Have you sought any funding?
We have raised $13.4 million to date.

- Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are no other companies in the market that created a BCI with a similar performance as the Emotiv EPOC.

Thanks Tan for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, and tech trends check this out our coverage on interviews can be found here

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