Duke University Ph.D. Student Creates Mind-Controlled Pong


David Schwarz, a Duke University Ph.D. student, has created a mind-controlled Pong utilizing electrodes and brain waves to allow players to move the game panels with their thoughts.

Schwarz tested the Pong activity in his lab on fellow students. “The first time I played, I played for like an hour and a half without stopping,” said Vivek Subramanian, 23, who assisted Schwarz with the program.

“That was so much fun, oh my gosh, I’ve never done anything like that before”, said Cullen Morgan, a 10th grader from Wilmington.

Schwarz works in Dr. Miguel Nicolelis’ lab, a pioneer in capturing brain activity to control machines. The mind-control Pong game is just a simple example of the power of technology that may one day let the paralyzed walk. The lab’s goal is to have a paralyzed person control an exoskeleton with her brain to perform the opening kickoff at soccer’s World Cup next year in Brazil, said Dr. Laura Oliveira, a senior research scientist in the Nicolelis lab.

“Our lab is interested to make it possible for paralyzed people to recover independence,” she said.

Schwarz hopes to streamline his game setup for others to use. When he graduates, he wants to continue to develop science outreach and use video games as a teaching tool. “The Pong game is important because it shows a real-world use for the research,” he said.

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