CES 2009: Telekinesis is Childâ¿¿s Play with Mindflex

Mattel showcased a bunch of new toys at their CES booth, but the one that drew the biggest crowds was Mindflex. Itâ''s a game targeted at 8-year-olds, where players take turns guiding a foam ball through a series of obstacles arranged in a ring. The exciting part? You control the height of the ball with your brain.

Watch below as IEEE Spectrum editor Tekla Perry, dons the headband and earclips, and â''thinksâ'' the ball into the air.

Mattel tells us that the game picks up on theta waves generated by the brain. Concentrate, and the ball rises; relax, and it will descend. Of course, this isnâ''t direct telekinesisâ''the foam ball floats on a column of air generated by a fan, and the fanâ''s speed is controlled by signals from the headset.

As you see in the video, the ball was often slow to respond, and the controls were far from precise. These two problems tend to plague all brain-computer interfaces currently on the consumer market. That's why we named a similar product, Emotive System's Epoch gaming headset, a loser in our sixth annual "Winners and Losers" list.

And some in the blogosphere have bestowed a similar fate to Mindflex. Crunchgear called the game "something that will end up at the bottom of the toybox next Christmas." I agree that Mindflex is built on a simple gimmick...but what a gimmick it is. While driving a video-game car with your brain might be more entertaining, Mindflex actually brings the technology into the physical world.

For that reason alone, I think that many of the $79 games will sell to parents of eager 8-year-olds when they go to market in the fall (despite all the grumblings of disappointed YouTubers).


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.