Saturday, August 16, 2014

Using Arduino For Mind Control

This isn't a post about using a microcontroller (MCU) to control someone's mind -- it's a post about how to use an Arduino device that lets you use your brainwaves to manipulate inanimate objects.
OpenBCI prototype called "Frankenboard"

Here's how the August 11 article "Building Mind-Controlled Gadgets Just Got Easier" from explains this new brain-computer interface (BCI).
"Their system enables DIYers to use brain waves to control anything they can hack—a video game, a robot, you name it. “It feels like there’s going to be a surge,” says Russomanno. “The floodgates are about to open.” And since their technology is open source, the creators hope hackers will also help improve the BCI itself. Their OpenBCI system makes sense of an electroencephalograph (EEG), signal, a general measure of electrical activity in the brain captured via electrodes on the scalp. The fundamental hardware component is a relatively new chip from Texas Instruments, which takes in analog data from up to eight electrodes and converts it to a digital signal. Russomanno and Murphy used the chip and an Arduino board to create OpenBCI, which essentially amplifies the brain signal and sends it via Bluetooth to a computer for processing."
Current OpenBCI board
One nice aspect of Arduino is that it's getting more and more people who aren't electronics experts, computer programmers or engineers involved with physical computing. The IEEE article says they are "artists who met at Parsons the New School for Design." In the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group, there is a forester, a biologist, and an artist. And we'd love to have more non-engineers and others whose main experience and training is not in the field of electronics. The Arduino movement seems to encourage a whole new spectrum of people to see how they can apply MCUs and other modern electronics to their particular field of interest.

I haven't quite figured out if I think OpenBCI will be around for the foreseeable future. They seem relatively legitimate, but their website appears to be either very new or not a high priority for the founders of OpenBCI. Quite a few of the webpages on the site say 'Under Construction.' Even the 'Getting Started' page says it's under construction. But IEEE is a pretty reputable organization, and I don't think they'd have published the article if they weren't comfortable that the project was legitimate. Overall, though, it appears you'll get the OpenBCI hardware if you want to spend the $399 on either the 8-bit or 32-bit board kits. They also have a GitHub site that contains "the core OpenBCI hardware and software frameworks."

In addition to the IEEE August 2014 article about OpenBCI, there were a number of articles in early 2014 when OpenBCI did a successful Kickstarter campaign, getting more than twice their original goal of $100,000. Wired did an article in January 2014 titled, "These Guys Are Creating a Brain Scanner You Can Print Out at Home." The article featured a 3D printed 'brain scanner' headset that they called the Spider Claw 3000. Here's the article's description of the brain scanner:
"Spider Claw 3000" 3D printed 'brain scanner'
"It includes sensors and a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which you print out on a 3-D printer. Put it all together, and it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to your PC...You can target up to 64 locations on the scalp with a maximum of 16 electrodes at a time."
The $399 starting price for the OpenBCI is too steep for my budget, but I'm sure there will be some pretty interesting developments with this equipment in the next few years. The IEEE article mentions three projects:
"Audette, the engineer from Creare, is already hacking robotic “battle spiders” that are typically steered by remote control. Audette used an OpenBCI prototype to identify three distinct brain-wave patterns that he can reproduce at will, and he sent those signals to a battle spider to command it to turn left or right or to walk straight ahead. “The first time you get something to move with your brain, the satisfaction is pretty amazing,” Audette says...In Los Angeles, a group is using another prototype to give a paralyzed graffiti artist the ability to practice his craft
Chip Audette and brain-controlled Hex Bug battle spider (from IEEE)
again. The artist, Tempt One, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2003 and gradually progressed to the nightmarish “locked in” state. By 2010 he couldn’t move or speak and lay inert in a hospital bed—but with unimpaired consciousness, intellect, and creativity trapped inside his skull...They’re using OpenBCI to record the artist’s brain waves and are devising ways to use those brain waves to control the computer cursor so Tempt can sketch his designs on the screen...David Putrino, director of telemedicine and virtual rehabilitation at the Burke Rehabilitation Center, in White Plains, N.Y., says he’s comparing the open-source system to the $60,000 clinic-grade EEG devices he typically works with...Putrino hopes to use OpenBCI to build a low-cost EEG system that patients can take home from the hospital, and he imagines a host of applications. Stroke patients, for example, could use it to determine when their brains are most receptive to physical therapy, and Parkinson’s patients could use it to find the optimal time to take their medications
I wonder what some imaginative teenagers who have a lot of time and energy on their hands will come up when they start hacking OpenBCI...


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