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Connection, Training, Usage

I performed most of my tests of the NIA on the following PC configuration:

  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H (Nvidia nForce 630i chipset)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 processor (2.66GHz)
  • 2x2GB PC6400 DDR2 SDRAM from Corsair
  • ASUS EN8800GTS graphics card (GeForce 8800GTS/512)
  • Samsung HD321KJ hard disk drive (320GB)
  • Antec NSK1380 system case
  • Logitech G15 keyboard and Logitech MX Revolution mouse
  • Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit
  • OCZ NIA driver version 2.001

Since I had begun my tests before the release of the 64-bit driver, I also checked the NIA out under 32-bit Windows Vista and Windows XP. So I can tell you that the 64-bit driver has no problems in comparison with the 32-bit one, but the latest versions of the driver ensure a much better control than version 1.000 you can find on the included CD. I connected my NIA to four different computers, two desktop PCs and two notebooks, and had no problems with installation and setup.

From the OS’s point of view, the NIA is a regular Human Interface Device like keyboard or mouse. However, you must install special software for the NIA to work. This software allows to calibrate the sensors and assign their signals to the movements of joysticks or to the pressing of buttons.

The program incorporates an extended user manual the first part of which teaches you the right way of wearing the headset. It is easy, actually: you just have to avoid your hair to get under the sensors. You don’t have to tighten the headset too much. It should only have good contact with the skin of your forehead.

Next goes a detailed narration about the device’s capabilities and setup tips. The text shown above makes it clear that setting the device up is not a straightforward process. The text describes the situation when the Jump and Move Back triggers react simultaneously and you can’t jump over a gap without falling into it the next moment. The developer suggests that you enable a 1-second delay for the Move Back trigger to give yourself enough time to make the jump. However, it means that you won’t be able to move back quickly. I will discuss the problem of multiple triggers reacting simultaneously below.

The next step is about calibrating the sensors. Put the headset on and relax. If everything’s normal, the yellow graph in the screen must get below the green graph. It means that when you are motionless, the signal from the sensors is close to zero.

A few problems can arise here.

First of all, the sensors need a good contact with the skin which depends on the state of the skin. If your skin is too dry, the signal will be bouncing up and down or even keep always at the maximum level. The developer recommends applying some moisturizing cream to your forehead to solve this problem. In my personal case the contact depended on the weather, time of the day or my mood. It is hard to pinpoint the reason but at one moment I could calibrate the NIA at first attempt but at others I had to use moisturizing cosmetics. By the way, in medicine the sensors are covered with a special gel when recording an electroencephalogram.

Second, all the three sensors must be pressed tight to your skin. This is always the case with the right and left sensors, but the position of the middle sensor depends on your head. If your superciliary arches protrude but a little, the middle sensor won’t touch the skin. You can correct this by shifting the headset up a little, but your eye movements will then be registered by the sensors poorly.

I personally couldn’t find a position for the headset in which the latter would register the horizontal movements of my eyes well enough (I either could not calibrate the NIA or the headset proved to be too high, producing a weak signal), but my wife did this at first attempt. The reason could be seen easily when I put the headset off: the right and left sensors left a clear print on the skin while the middle sensor left no trace at all.

Third, for the NIA to work you computer must be grounded or independent of the power grid. Otherwise the signal is bouncing up and down all the time. I solved this problem with my desktop PC by using a 3-wire power plug with grounding. With a notebook, which didn’t have a grounding contact in its power plug, the NIA worked normally only when the notebook was powered by its battery or grounded with a separate wire. It may also help to put your hand on the NIA’s metallic case – to ground yourself, so to say.

The developer also warns that there should not be electromagnetically noisy devices near the NIA. All interference will be registered by the NIA’s sensors.

If you click in the bottom right corner of the program window, you will open up a screen where you can adjust the sensitivity of the NIA’s sensors. Well, if you’ve got serious problems with calibration, such adjustment won’t help much. The reduction of the sensitivity level will eliminate the electromagnetic interference but will also make the NIA insensitive to your neural impulses.

During the calibration process you are going to look at a gyroscope rotating on the screen for a dozen seconds. You can even defocus your eyes. The main thing is to relax your mimic and eye muscles and not move them at all. The calibration over, the NIA will draw a red line corresponding to zero level. If this line is below the green one, the calibration has been successful and you can proceed to training. If the red line is high and the yellow line has sudden spikes, you shouldn’t try to use the NIA because you won’t be able to control anything with it without successful and stable calibration.

Next you can press the Brainfingers button and look at the signals from the NIA’s sensors sorted by type but not yet assigned to specific buttons or joysticks. These are Glance (eye movements), Muscle (mimic muscles), and alpha and beta rhythms of the brain.

In case you don’t know, alpha rhythms of the human brain are electromagnetic radiation with a frequency of 8-12Hz that can be observed when the brain is awake but the eyes are closed. Alpha rhythms get weaker during sleep or slumber as well as when the eyes are open.

Beta rhythms correspond to strong mental activity, to the state of anxiety or concentration. Beta rhythms have frequencies above 12Hz.

It is obvious that controlling something with your brain rhythms is more difficult than with muscles. To change their level you have to learn to relax, even to slip into a state of meditation, and to concentrate quickly. The result is predictable: judging by the NIA-related forums, only few users are able to consciously change the level of alpha or beta waves even after several days of training. My training was fruitless, too.

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