‘Flying’ by mind alone

May 5, 2011
ascension 0066-1000

"Infinity Simulator" pairs an EEG headset with a 3-D theatrical flying harness allowing users to "fly" by mind alone (credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

An EEG headset with a 3-D theatrical flying harness allows that users to “fly” by controlling their thoughts has been created by a team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students.

The “Infinity Simulator” is a platform similar to a gaming console like the Wii or the Kinect, except that users are able to control live elements such as 3-D rigging, sound, lights, and video. It will make its debut at an art installation during which participants rise into the air and trigger light, sound, and video effects by calming their thoughts.

The team’s initial vision was a room paneled with projection screens similar to a Cave Automated Virtual Environment, in which participants would be able to float effortlessly in an environment intended to evoke a glimpse into infinity. They ended up with rigging and harness controlled by a Stage Tech NOMAD console, lights controlled by an ION console running a MIDI show control, sound through MAX/MSP, and video through Isadora and Jitter.

ascension 0108-1000

Turn off your mind, relax, and ascend (credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Ten computer programs run simultaneously to link a commercially available EEG headset to the computer-controlled 3-D flying harness and the other theater systems. The programs act as intermediary between the headset and the theater systems, connecting and conveying all input and output.

The system measures two brain states: alpha and theta (waking consciousness and everyday brain computational processing), the students said.  When a user closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, the computational processing power decreases. When the power decreases below a certain threshold, it triggers the user to elevate.

As the user rises, her ascent further triggers a changing display of lights, sound, and video. The system hints at transcendental experience.

The students said that while the system was conceived to provide a “glimpse of infinity,” it can be used to build other experiences, such as a flight through cumulus clouds or a 3-D obstacle course.

The new system will be exhibited in the art installation “The Ascent” on May 12 at Rensselaer’s Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).