The Atari Mindlink
"The State of the Art for the State of your Mind"

 

Atari, looked into interfacing people with computers and video games in
an entirely new way. A set of controllers and software combined
together to create the "Atari Mindlink System". A combination
of headband with Infrared Transmitter and Infrared Receiver, the Atari
Mindlink system could connect to your Atari VCS 2600, Atari 7800 and Atari
Home Computers. Using specially written software you could
control the action on the screen.

The headband would detect read resistance the myoneural signal voltage

to muscles in the users forehead (or elsewhere) and interpret them into commands

 on the screen, using the analog/digital game port interface.

 

Such a unique and new form of interaction did have a short learning curve to make the controls

respond to just the slightest movement of the forehead muscles.

(Almost to the point of just thinking about moving an object; thus Mindlink).

 


 

According to Bill Lapham, one of the Mindset engineers:

"The original first-off unit did not work very well because once the user was comfortable

with the system (10 minutes or so) his muscle reactions would overdrive the system.

To counter this we redesigned the signal amplifiers to step down the signal

 amplification to reach a useable level."

"As a company, Atari NEVER saw the device to test. There were only a few people

 that were given the final design prototypes to look at in a non-functional form.

The 6 working units taken to the CES show were not distributed to any group

 for official use or testing."

 

However it should be noted that again, Atari was ahead of its time with

 innovations such as these and given time for refinement and newer design technologies

the idea of the Mindlink system would've grown into a successful peripheral.

 

Fully working Atari Mindlink Prototypes shown by

 the Atari Museum at the 2003 Austin Gaming Expo
 


 

MINDLINK INDUSTRIAL DESIGN -

 


A Chinese design group affiliated with Atari/Wong, Hong Kong created the headband and
transceiver cases. The original design of the headband was not useable.

It very stiff and did not fit a “range” of head sizes. The “final” design used an elastic

belt/band with a Velcro fastener at the back of the head. The greatest design problem

 was the method used for picking up the actual signals in the headband. The metal

 contact buttons (3 each) needed further development.

 



MINDLINK ELECTRONICS -

 

The electronic design was done at Atari/Wong, Hong Kong by an Atari consultant,

 Jim Scudder, of Lynchberg, Virginia and Senior Design Engineer and

 Manager of the Continuation Engineering Group, Bill Lapham.

Case and headband design was directed by Anthony Jones

 from Atari Home Computer Marketing.

 


 

 

 

No new software was ever written. The demo software we used was PONG and

 Breakout (renamed Bionic Breakthrough). This was because the initial unit could

 only control a screen object in a left-right or up-down configuration; dubbed a

 “bang-bang” mode. In the lab, an advanced controller could control almost any Atari

 software that was useable with a standard Atari joystick, but, due to time constraints,

 this couldn't be rolled out for the June 1984 CES summer show at McCormick Place

 in Chicago. Proof of this concept is easily made by strapping the headband

 to a bicep or thigh and training that muscle group to control an object.

One month after Mindlink's introduction, Atari's Consumer Electronics and Home

 Computer divisions were sold to Tramiel Technologies Ltd.    Jack Tramiel and his sons

saw the Mindlink as a toy; they canceled it's development at a cost of many millions of dollars.

 Contracts for tooling and semiconductor/IC development had been signed

 with toolmakers and National Semiconductor. For those of us that were not dismissed,

Tramiel's stated objective was to destroy compete against Apple.
 



The sad part of Mindlink's history is that the day after it was splashed on national TV

Someone associated with the original  Battlestar Galactica film/series,

came to the booth and brought a proposal from Rafer Johnson,

Olympic Champion and the then president of Special Olympics.

They were proposing that Atari develop sports software for the next Special Olympics.

The Rose Kennedy Foundation was going to foot the total development cost.

This would have opened a door to development of computer control for the handicapped;

which could not realistically be funded any other way.

There were proposals afoot for a system that could attach to the forehead,

biceps and thighs to give 5 degrees of “bang-bang” control; a device which

 could have brought a Wii type controller to market in the late 80s.

In addition, the original biofeedback device, using a graphical presentation and screen

 color changes, was capable of training one to enter high states of relaxation

 in very short periods of time.

An additional device that was in proposal was a heads-up display that could

 emulate a “missile launch” control system such as used in the movie “Firefox”,

 with Clint Eastwood, released in 1982. The concept was to use a overlay screen

 on the face of the TV monitor that was 20% reflective. This would give

 the illusion of the heads-up reflection and would incorporate weapons pickers and

 other function selection. The video game and sight cross-hairs were onscreen behind

 the overlay. Ocular trackers were also proposed as another controller to use with the headband.



 


 

 

An earlier project called "Bionics"


Robert Coppack's "Bionics" system nvolved a similar type of bioelectronics device.

The original “Mindlink” device was for biofeedback. It was reworked as a game

 controller because the “Lawyers” were not going to get into the liability of fail-safe,

life-support medical devices. In addition, the biofeedback market was miniscule in

comparison to the controller market.      The case design was done by Regan
Cheng, according to Regan the Bio-Electronics system was originally going to be

 a module that would have plugged into the Bionics medical system.