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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Rest, relax, and win: Contest victors can put their minds at ease

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cyndi Harmon, left, battles Eric Peterman in Mindball. Cyndi Harmon, left, battles Eric Peterman in Mindball.
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Emily Galambos sat with her eyes closed, hands serenely clasped in front of her, while a monitor showed the activity of her brain waves.

Then someone watching her gasped.

"Man, she's almost flat-lining!"

In a good way.

Ms. Galambos was playing Mindball, a game that in a roundabout way uses a competitor's brain waves - the more relaxed, the better (and the flatter the line on the monitor) - to move a ball across a table toward the opponent.

It's tough - concentrating on not concentrating on anything. Ms. Galambos, who won this match during a demonstration by UltraSound Special Events yesterday at the Hilton-Toledo just tried to stay calm.

"I was trying to think: clouds, soft, nothing concrete," said Ms. Galambos, an events specialist at The Pinnacle.

UltraSound President Kevin Wieging said Mindball represents the next generation of high-tech gaming.

"It's beyond video games," he said. "You're not pushing buttons. You're controlling things with your mind."

Here's how it works:

Players, wearing a headstrap that's wired to a biosensor system, sit at opposite ends of a table with a small ball in the middle of it. The system registers and graphs the players' alpha and theta waves, generated when the brain is calm.

A computer then processes the data and uses a magnet to move the ball away from the person who is most relaxed, Mr. Wieging said. The player who sends the ball to the opposite end of the table wins.

Bitte Hanell, CEO of the Swedish company Interactive Productline that makes the units, explained in an e-mail to The Blade that the science behind Mindball - which he called a kind of biofeedback training - is useful in helping people with problems relaxing and focusing.

It's good to see that we're using our technological advances for important uses, right?

A version of the game appeared in 2004 at NextFest (an expo organized by Wired, a technology magazine), and shared a hall with other useful wonders of science, including:

●FogScreen, a display system in which images are projected onto a thin, smooth vapor surface, making them appear to be floating in thin air.

●Skycar, an automobile that doubles as a personal aircraft that can fly faster than 300 mph and as high as 25,000 feet.

●Optical camouflage, which uses a video camera, retro-reflective material, and a projector to make objects appear invisible.

No question, this stuff is pretty neat, but it can be educational too. At $19,000 a pop, Interactive Productline has sold 51 Mindball units so far, including one to the Adventure Science Center in Nashville.

"We're using it as a way for people to get closer to their brains and to see some of the brain waves ... ," said Becky Matthews, an educator at the science museum. "It's brain activity that determines which way the ball moves."

UltraSound, an interactive entertainment business with offices in Lima and Holland, hopes it will be a hit at local corporate events and other gatherings.

Michelle Doyle, who won yesterday's tournament, had a blast. She said her secret was keeping her eyes closed and maintaining a focused mind.

"I thought about running on the treadmill all the time," said the group sales manager for the Toledo Zoo.

Her victory in the final match was pretty quick, but an opponent in an earlier round gave her zen state some trouble.

"I was with a co-worker and she was making fun of my hair," she said.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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