Gaming can be the low-hanging fruit that enables advances in health tech, such as the low-cost VR systems that have made new therapeutic treatments possible. Impulse, a new neural mouse introduced at CES 2021, shows promise in the next chapter of that history. Impulse, designed by Brink Bionics, speeds up the response time when a user clicks the mouse in response to gaming activity.
It’s devices such as Impulse makes this year’s virtual CES bittersweet. Playing with exhibitor’s toys during live exhibitions is just such fun. Still, Brink Bionics’ virtual exhibition makes a strong case for keeping an eye on Impulse. The neural interface, embedded in a glove, uses sensors that detect muscular biomarkers that predict movement. A machine-learning algorithm analyzes these biomarkers in milliseconds, then communicates the intended mouse click directly to the computer. According to Brink Bionics, Impulse can decrease the time between the brain’s signal to move a finger and the actual mouse click by as much as 80 milliseconds (nearly one tenth of a second).
When a player reacts during a game, the area of the brain that plans, coordinates, and executes movement — called the motor cortex — generates a signal and sends it out to the fingers. The signal travels along the nerve pathways to the appropriate muscle. The muscle then fires, causing its fibers to contract, pulling the finger to create the actual click.
When the muscle fires, it also generates an ion exchange that results in an electric impulse. This process can be sensed using electromyography, or EMG. Impulse’s sensors detect the EMG; the algorithm predicts the intended movement; then the device sends the information to the computer and Click! Mission accomplished.
In videos, a gamer wearing Impulse appears to consistently produce faster clicks than a gamer using a regular mouse. However, the product is still in beta; there’s no reason Impulse won’t fall victim to the usual snafus that can trip up any brain-computer interface. Discrepancies between intention and computer interpretation could cause incorrect movements, and inconsistencies might make the device unreliable, or at the very least, really distracting during game play.
Nevertheless, the team behind Impulse understands the potential for their technology beyond gaming. At CES, Erik Loyd, co-founder, and president of Brink Bionics, said they intend to explore health applications, pointing out that Impulse might assist individuals with motor control limitations or limb differences in gaming as well as using other electronic devices. For now, gamers can pre-order the device on Indiegogo.