Stanford engineers create gaming controller that detects players’ emotions

8 Apr 2014

Stanford engineers have developed handheld game controllers to pick up players' physiological responses. Image via Stanford News

A team from Stanford University in California has developed what it claims to be a controller capable of reading a game player’s physiology through touch-sensitive panels.

If the technology is to be developed to a commercial state, the potential for companies that produce gaming consoles could be far-reaching, Stanford News reported.

For example, the player’s experience of a game they find boring or uninteresting could be totally changed as the game could react by ratcheting up the intensity. Likewise, for gamers playing horror games, the fear factor could increase as the controller’s panels read increased levels of stress (rather cruelly, it has to be said).

Or perhaps, it could ease off on bombarding the gamer with challenges if it senses anger in the player.

The research, led by Texas Instruments under the leadership Stanford doctoral candidate Corey McCall, had originally been targeted toward the development of a practical way of measuring physiological signals to determine how a person’s bodily systems are functioning.

To make the controller, the team removed the back panel from an Xbox 360 controller and replaced it with a 3D-printed plastic module packed with sensors.

They then put small metal pads on the controller’s surface to measure the user’s heart rate, blood flow, and both the rate of breath and how deeply the user is breathing. This was followed by placing another light-operated sensor, that gives a second heart-rate measurement, and accelerometers, that measure how frantically the person is shaking the controller.

McCall said the gaming controller was a great way of measuring a body’s physical reaction to particular conditions.

“You can see the expression of a person’s autonomic nervous system in their heart rate and skin temperature and respiration rate, and by measuring those outputs, we can understand what’s happening in the brain almost instantaneously.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic