University of Michigan researchers published a paper in “Frontiers in Robotics and AI,” in which they described how they enabled human subjects to interact with virtual realities using direct brain stimulation. The players did not rely on usual sensory cues from sight, hearing or touch, but instead used input from transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Subjects navigated 21 different mazes, with two choices to move forward or down based on whether they sensed a visual stimulation artifact called a phosphene, which is perceived as blobs or bars of light. Basically, if they sensed a phosphene, they knew they had an obstacle in front of them. Players made the right moves 92% of the time when they received the input via direct brain stimulation, compared to 15% of the time when they lacked that guidance.
The scientists are trying to give humans a sixth sense. With applications ranging from helping visually impaired people navigate, to creating complex visual perceptions for virtual reality and gaming, this appears to be an exciting new frontier!