Monday, February 9, 2009

Telekinesis (for kids!)

The Globe and Mail did an article last week on the best new high-tech toys on the market. They 0nly listed four, and most of them, to be honest, weren't that cool: a couple of robots (an anthropomorph and one that looks like an overhead projector) and a toy car presumably based on the auto industry's response to the economic meltdown.

What was completely awesome, on the other hand, is the Jedi Force Trainer by Uncle Milton, a science-y toy company with apparent ties to Lucas Arts (their website boasts Star Wars and Indiana Jones related projects with alleged "science" tie-ins).

The Jedi Force Trainer basically consists of a ping pong ball, a tube, a high-tech tube stand, and an even higher-tech headband/funny hat. The headpiece is actually an electroencephalography (EEG) device, designed to detect a certain form of brain wave, the electromagnetic activity in your brain which compose your thoughts. The idea is simple: concentrate and you'll activate a tiny fan (I assume), which elevates the ball - yeah, it's not real telekinesis, but what do you want for under 100 bucks?

One-upping the Jedi Force Trainer is Matel's Mind Flex. Remember when we all thought Mattel made hoverboards after seeing them in Back to the Future 2? Well, now they make hover balls, which you can move through an obstacle course using the power of thought (and a dial to move the obstacle course around the ball).

Of course, questions abound. Namely, can I concentrate on anything to get the ball to move, or do I have to think of the ball? Do other thoughts, or mental states/emotions (such as anger, hate, fear... you know, dark side stuff) also work? Does it help if I'm tiny, green, and 900 years old?

The big question, though, is really whether or not this is the shape of toys to come. Are we slowly getting rid of hand-eye coordination (or at least minimizing their use), replacing it with mind-eye coordination? Is this the bold, new future of entertainment (especially gaming and transportation, as Emotive Systems is doing), or is this the "virtual reality" of the 21st century? Only time - and consumer habits and techonological advances - will tell.

Check out Mattel's Mind Flex below:


  1. These toys are similar if not identical to one I used at the Montreal Science Centre. It didn't offer up a lot of explanation (a problem throughout the exhibit) so I had to poke around afterward to get more information.
    The game involved two players at opposite ends of the table, each trying to force the ball towards their opponent. It turns out the calmest, more relaxed of the two is meant to win, much to the chagrin of the middle-aged man I watched lose to an eight-year old boy. The more he grew upset about losing, the faster the ball rolled towards him.

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  3. I'm curious how easy it is to calibrate the game I mentioned (Brain Ball) to measure other things you suggested such as concentration or emotion. I suppose at the very least the polarity could be reversed to measure stress.

    Brain Ball

  4. I remember when that game came out and people thought it was a hoax. I also recall they saying that men, in general, won at it. I never tried it myself, though I now wish I had. I'm sure I'll a chance to mind-move a ball someday.