The Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) is a device developed by the OCZ Technology Group and is the first commercially available product of its kind, and uses biopotentials from the forehead to interface with a computer. In general, the device falls into the technical category of neural interface (NI) or Brain-computer interface (BCI). However, the name Neural Impulse Actuator implies that the signals originate from some neuronal activity but what is actually captured is a mixture of muscle, skin and nerve activity including sympathetic and parasympathetic components that have to be summarized as biopotentials rather than pure neural signals. The biopotentials are decompiled into different frequency spectra to allow the separation into different groups of electrical signals. Individual signals that are isolated comprise alpha and beta brain waves, electromyograms and electro oculograms. By using three separate, laterally spaced electrodes, not only can amplitudes of different "Brainfingers" be measured but also a differentiation between left and right is possible. The latter - horizontal joystick - uses primarily electromyogram of the extra-ocular muscles and electro-oculogram by picking up potential differences between the anterior surface of the neural retina and the back of the retinal pigmented epithelium.

The current version of the NIA uses carbon-fibers injected into soft plastic as substrate for the headband and for the sensors and achieves sensitivity much greater than the original silver chloride-based sensors using a clip-on interface to the wire harness.

The NIA was introduced into the market by OCZ Technology as a gaming device, but has been developed in conjunction with Dr Andrew Junker of BAT, who originated the technology for medical use. The main advantages are a dramatic reduction in reaction time from approximately 200 milliseconds for a standard mouse click to roughly 80-150 milliseconds using the eyelid reflex or similar facial reactions to trigger the computer click response. In addition, multiple channels can be divided into several zones based on thresholds and each zone within each channel can be bound to a keyboard key. Each key stroke can further be assigned to several modes, including single keystroke, hold, repeat and dwell which allows full plasticity with respect to configuration of the NIA for any application. Moreover, the same "vertical joysticks" can be used in more than one instance to enable simultaneous pressing of multiple keys at any given time like "W" and "Spacebar" for jumping forward or toggling between left and right strafing for running in a zigzag pattern.

Recently entering mass production, the final edition of the Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) was on display for users to try out at CeBIT 2008 in Hannover, Germany.The final version of the NIA uses a sleek, metal housing, a USB 2.0 interface, a streamlined headband with carbon interface sensors, and user-friendly software.

The NIA has now been put into mass production, and the final retail price of $159USD has been confirmed.

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de:Neural Impulse Actuator

nl:Neural Impulse Actuator

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