In the late 1990's, I recall that there was a piece of hardware being demonstrated in Best Buy that supposedly allowed you to control your computer via signals sent from your brain.

How it worked is that there was a small metallic plate that you would place your finger on. This plate was connected to (I believe) a USB port, and it somehow translated the signals from your brain into "left" and "right" commands for the computer.

In the Best Buy demonstration, the product was hooked up to the slalom game that came with Windows 3.1 or 95 or so; the point was to ski left and right, avoiding trees, and hitting hills of snow to gain points by jumping in the air and doing tricks.

The device somehow detected "brain patterns" and allowed you to ski the courses without actually moving. I remember it being notoriously hard to control at first, but after a few minutes, the brain control seemed natural and intuitive, and it actually made me a bit giddy to see the skier move without any apparent physical movement on my part.

The problem is that I can't seem to find any documentation on this product anywhere. It seemingly had the name "Max" or the like, and I remember spending hours in Best Buy playing it before it mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again.

What was this product, who created it, and why did it mysterious vanish without a trace? Is it still possible to find/purchase one of these devices, or is the science behind it complete bull? I remember it working pretty well, but the device cost about $300 USD, which was more than you'd pay for a complete game console of the era.

Can anyone shed any light on this product, and what happened to it?

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    Brain waves detected through your fingers? I really doubt that this can work... – dirkt Nov 11 '17 at 6:24
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    The interface I remember was a finger shaped groove with a small ball or bump at the end (maybe like a modern trackball sensor) where your fingertip would rest. While navigating the slalom, you would subconsciously move your finger, and the sensor would pick up those tiny movements and move the skier in that direction. It was a gimmick. – traal Nov 11 '17 at 6:27
  • @traal That's what I think, too, but it drives me mad that I can't pinpoint this device. It's been like half a lifetime ago, and I swear this thing existed, but it's harder to find than anything I've ever had to Google (and that's a LOT), so I was hoping someone here might know something about this rare, hard-to-find hardware. – phyrfox Nov 11 '17 at 6:44
  • I feel like I saw a report on TV once of a mind-controlled skiing game. I've no recollection of it being finger-powered. But that will have been in the UK so I guess they must have made some sort of greater PR effort than just throwing it into US shop displays. – Tommy Nov 11 '17 at 19:41
  • There were kits for addons to the BBC Micro in the mid '80s that read skin resistance and allegedly allowed you to control the machine if you had software to make sense of the inputs. As you might expect, they never caught on. – Chenmunka Nov 12 '17 at 11:16
up vote 12 down vote accepted

The device was called the MindDrive, from a company called "The Other 90%". It had a few games available including MindSkier, which was a downhill slalom game. Nothing in particular ever happened to it, it just never caught on. The technology really has nothing to do with brainwaves at all; it's just measuring the conductance of your finger. At worst, it's pretty much random. At best, it's doing what a mouse can do, only not nearly as well.

Clint Basinger (LGR) does a review/retrospective as part of his "Oddware" series here.

  • 1
    Fun fact from a retro-computer POV: President and founder of "The Other 90%" was the ex-president of Atari, Ron Gordon. – tofro Nov 12 '17 at 12:14
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    There's a YouTube Video testing MindSkier. Find and watch that, there's fun to be had when he lets a cherry tomato "mind-drive" the game and beat the hi-score ;) – tofro Nov 12 '17 at 12:21
  • Thanks a ton for solving this mystery for me. For the longest time, I was convinced I'd dreamt about this thing, but now I know it was real, I just had a few details wrong. The article definitely reminded me of my own experience with the device. – phyrfox Nov 12 '17 at 13:50
  • Introduced to market only after seven years of research, allegedly: web.archive.org/web/19970318171402/http://www.other90.com:80/… (and check out the 'News' page for reproductions of other press received at the time: the SF Business Journal, USA Today, Rolling Stone and others. – Tommy Nov 13 '17 at 13:47
  • LGR gets good results from using a grape instead of his finger XD – LateralTerminal Nov 13 '17 at 19:36

The OCZ NIA was a device with a similar idea, but possibly with somewhat more advanced hardware, which was available at a later date (circa 2005 or so I think -- Wikipedia has date for when production ceased, but not when it started). It was also somewhat cheaper. If you look around, you can still find these available second hand. Rather than controlling via the finger (which seems a bit weird if you ask me!) these devices hook over your head and (supposedly) sense the impulses that control the muscles that move your eyeballs. I had one, but could never figure out how to actually make it work.

The MindDrive and other "mind-reading" input devices that don't include an EEG headset work by reading your stress levels in the form of skin conductivity.

The program initializes its state by wobbling an object back and forth randomly. When the object starts going in the desired direction, the user relaxes, which the hardware can read in the form of reduced skin conductivity. If the user wants the object to reverse direction, they tense up, increasing skin conductivity.

Note that this is a simple "yes-or-no" input, and only works well for one-dimension movement, such as a slalom skier moving sideways across the slope. Input devices based on it tend to vanish quickly, once the novelty wears off.

And of course, let us not forget the Atari Mindlink.

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