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Ride your own brainwaves!

Neurosis is a thrill ride that reads the brain waves of riders as they are taken through a virtual reality world and jolted around on a specially made platform. Climb aboard with Professor Brendan Walker, but hang on tight

A new kind of fairground attraction that allows people to 'ride their own brainwaves' has been developed by artist and engineer Professor Brendan Walker.

To ride Neurosis, individuals sit in a red chair, don virtual reality glasses and wear a mind-reading headset to be taken through a virtual reality world created by Walker, along with Middlesex University senior lecturer in Digital Technologies, Dr Magnus Moar. The world changes, depending on the brainwave signals, and the chair sends riders in all directions during this sensory extravaganza.

The headset reads the electrical activity from 14 parts of the brain and was developed at the University of Nottingham. The rider must control his or her thoughts, in order to control the ride--as the chair's movement and world before their eyes change to their mood and movement.

THRILL TIME

The motion platform at the heart of the ride was developed in partnership with Middlesex University, where Walker is Professor of Creative Industries. Innovation charity Nesta commissioned him to create Neurosis and he has been busily engaged in working in partnership with a number of institutions and artists, including Arts Council England, to develop the thrill ride.

The 'ride' was unveiled for the first time at the recent Nesta Future-Fest two-day event in central London, with the public treated to individual rides on board Neurosis during the festival, offering a taste of what the world might feel like in the decades to come.

A number of people have been involved with Walker on the project, including 'The Mighty Jungulator' (artist Matthew Olden), who has created a digital soundtrack to further bring the ride to life, and Festo, which developed pneumatics for the motion platform.

INSPIRING OTHERS

Walker is making the motion platform chair at the heart of Neurosis open source and hopes it will inspire school children to get involved with engineering and science projects.

"Neurosis is going to allow designers to create a whole new genre of fairground rides, where the only limitation is your imagination," he predicts passionately. "Your body is the limit on traditional rides; on this ride, every twist and turn is directed by your own brain waves.

"The ride responds to you and gives each individual a personal experience.

If you're not excited, the chair will move faster to make you more exhilarated. If you reach a state of meditation, the ride will reflect that. The technology responds to emotions like excitement, boredom, frustration and meditation."

So what are the design features behind this extravaganza? Like all fairground rides, there are several integrated systems, structures and hardware involved: brain monitoring; visual effects; motion, lighting; sound; and structure

At the heart sits brain monitoring and neuro data analysis and broadcast system--developed with Walker's own research team at the University of Nottingham. "I use a 14 channel EEG monitor that streams data over Bluetooth," he explains. "This goes into the Performing Data Platform, which has been developed to enable creative projects taking any sensor input, analysed, and broadcast to drive visualisations and actuators etc over local networks or the www. The analysed brain data gives us an additional four affective states to play with."

IMMERSIVE WORLD

This data is then shipped over LAN to the processor used to create an immersive VR (virtual reality) world in Unity (popular computer gaming development software). "I developed this world with Magnus Moar at Middlesex University. I use the 14 channels of raw EEG and the four affective states to 'draw' the world in real time: controlling the twists and turns of an emergent tunnel, along with its colours and tempo. The rider appears to tumble chaotically through this world. I take two camera perspectives from this world: the rider's first-person perspective is seen through VR goggles; the audience sees the rear view (where the rider has just come from) projected behind the rider."

MUSCULAR PERFORMANCE

Rider motion is provided by a special piece of kit--the MDX Reflex, a six degree of motion platform developed with Middlesex University. "This uses six computer-controlled air muscles, which can create movement and rotation in the x, y and z planes," Walker reveals. "The platform has a life outside Neurosis. It'll become an Open Source project for UTC secondary school children to build their own, using parts sponsored by robotics company FESTO. Motion platform control comes from a physics model built inside the Unity VR world."

The music and light show was developed with Matthew Olden, using MAX MSP and DMX control. "Lighting and music are also controlled by live brain data streaming over our LAN. Meanwhile, the motion platform and light show are spatialised on a static scaffolding structure."

That covers the technical design aspects worked on with each partner to develop and produce. The creative design is another ball game altogether, he says, and really what drove development of all this technology.

"The idea was informed by several previous projects I've created, particularly ride experiments like Breathless [see http://bit.ly/ljQAfRs] and body monitoring projects such as Duality [http://bit.ly/lRdODOI].

"It was also informed by my more commercial work, consulting for theme park ride design. The music (Bangra jungle) and colours came from my speculation that cultural influences in ride design will start to emerge from BRIC countries in 2050--hence the Indian vibe. The visual imagery--circular projection = stained glass window, the start bust effect lighting = sacred heart - and elevated platform create a spiritual experience and elevate the rider to a deity.

REALITY CHECK

The fact the rider is at height of 2m above the floor adds real jeopardy, he adds. "When they tumble in the virtual space, they are not too sure whether it is for real or not. Even the way the stairs are designed, for riders to emerge from behind the ride to face their audience, is all created to add layers of anticipation.

"Finally, because I could never get a high volume of riders through Neurosis, I designed the experience as a theatre show, to entertain a much larger audience of spectators, many of who never get to sit in the chair themselves."

This was where the theming and theatre set design and build, in partnership with theatre set designer George Tomlinson, proved invaluable.

All systems were developed independently. "I had the overview.

Each system was tested at point of interface with the next. This agile approach to development was necessary, because of limited resources and the complex nature of the project. It also allowed me to have individual creative discussions with each of the producers in these systems. At the heart of the project was the script--my narrative for the ride. Everyone was working to this.

"I articulated all systems, in terms of delivering experience that would be layered on top of that script: lighting, sound, vision, motion. I was confident that, when I brought the systems together, they'd become much more than the sum of their individual parts."

WHY NEUROSIS'?

"I plan on culture and tradition of naming fairground rides: 'Neuro' because of the brain, 'Neurosis', because I want people to be apprehensive about the experience they are about to sample and the lasting effect it might have on their brains," states Walker. There is also a subheading: 'Ride out of your mind', with that teasing play on words.

But how is the ride being promoted to the next generation of engineers? "Ride it, see the power it has to affect people's emotions, see how the concept has the power to captivate people's imaginations," advises Walker, and then: "Go build your own!"

GETTING NEUROSIS AIRBORNE

Arts Council England funded research and development of the Neurosis thrill ride concept, while a commission from innovation charity Nesta (www.nesta.org.uk) funded site specific installation at FutureFest. There was also vital support from the University of Nottingham and Middlesex University, along with that of individual artists Matthew Olden and George Tomlinson.

TIMELINE TO TAKE-OFF First conversations took place with Nesta FutureFest curator Pat Kane in January 2013. The idea of the motion platform emerged in 2014 during discussions with Thorpe Park about developing a ride simulator as a bed in one of their hotel rooms "I would detect REM sleep, then subtly replay motions of park rides to try to get the sleeping visitor to relive the rides in their dreams," says the man behind the Neurosis project,

Professor Brendan Walker. "The bed never happened, but I continued to develop the motion platform with Middlesex as a much bigger idea.

The brain monitoring aspect emerged in 2014 during my early experiments looking at the effect on the brain of eating food. All other aspects theatre, sound and light--I have an ongoing working relationship with those people."

OBJECTIVES & GOALS Primarily Art: this is a kinetic lighting sculpture and live performance, which borrows from fairground language and current popular science.

Entertainment: To be the world's first brain controlled fairground ride; to influence the theme park industry.

Science: "I understand neuro data enough to be able to do amazing things with it"--Professor Brendan Walker.
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Title Annotation:MIND-BENDING EXPERIENCE
Publication:Engineering Designer
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Words:1539
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