Alternative biohacking with EEG

by Jay Butera

Electroencephalogram. Also known as EEG — a device to measure electrical impulses in the brain.

I’ll be bringing this wonderful contraption to the Ark Lab.

What you see in the picture is the OpenBCI EEG, encompassing an open source arduino-based chip that runs on open source firmware and interfaces through open source applications. Open source is great because it means you get hack at every layer of the stack.

In some sense, OpenBCI is revolutionizing the EEG market right now.

Up until recently, brain measuring devices were only found in research and medical labs. Some headsets have come out, like the Muse, that are designed for the consumer. But these headsets are ultimately limiting in the quality, quantity, and placement of the electrodes on the head.

Higher end headsets do exist for consumers (Emotiv), but the hardware and software is proprietary, so you’re limited to the data they offer. We want to build our own analyzers and roll our own research projects, so the OpenBCI Cyton is perfect!

The orange headset is a free design that I printed at my local university’s maker space. The headset is designed for researchers that may want to move the electrodes to different spots often. The holes fit the international10–20 system standard.

But it might be neat to design a much smaller headset that could be worn in public. Or one that allows the user to still wear headphones! With the manufacturing laboratory, we’ll have the chance to play with different designs and make something to fit just the niche we need.

OpenBCI supports a default application for the device where we can monitor signals in real-time. The program has a built-in FFT filter to extract frequencies (think alpha/beta/gamma waves), and also a focus metric for neurofeedback.

If you’re savvy, you might like to try building your own algorithm to analyze the brain. There are many ideas out there from research waiting to be implemented. Or maybe you know Tensorflow and want to apply a neural network to some training data you generated from hours of meditation. It’s all possible with this device.

Three years ago my friend and I developed a neurofeedback game to levitate a cube by focusing on it. We noticed it was hard sustain the float with open eyes, much easier when they were closed. We eventually added a 3d noise to the cube so that as it rose, it sounded like an alien spaceship taking off. That way the game wasn’t just visual feedback, but auditory. And one could play with their eyes closed.

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