(Credit: Joel Murphy & Conor Russomanno)
A new Kickstarter campaign wants to put an affordable, open-source brain-computer interface kit in the hands of anyone with a computer.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) aren't very sophisticated yet. The brain is still a pretty large mystery, and controlling something gets very difficult when you have to think about what you're doing. Nevertheless, great strides have been made in the last 12 months or so, such as a paralysed woman being able to move a robotic arm, students learning how to pilot a quadcopter and — all simply by thinking about it.
Electrical engineers Joel Murphy and Conor Russomanno want to blow it wide open by bringing the capability to build a BCI to anyone who cares to figure it out. They have created OpenBCI — an open-source, Arduino-compatible eight-channel EEG platform that will allow you to access high-quality, raw EEG data. This means that anyone with a bit of programming savvy can use that data to write their own BCI software or engineering skills to create their own BCI hardware.
"Our vision is to realise the potential of the open-source movement to accelerate innovation in brain science through collaborative hardware and software development," they wrote on Kickstarter. "Behind the many lines of code and circuit diagrams, OpenBCI has a growing community of scientists, engineers, designers, makers and a whole bunch of other people who are interested in furthering our understanding of the brain. We feel that the biggest challenges in understanding what makes us who we are cannot be solved by a company, an institution or even an entire field of science. Rather, we believe these discoveries will be made through an open forum of shared knowledge and concerted effort by people from many different disciplines."
What they are offering in their Kickstarter campaign is basically a starter EEG system. This includes the electrodes, which will attach to the subject's head to monitor the electrical activity of the brain inside; the eight-channel EEG Bluetooth signal capture system, which will allow that data to be transferred to an SD card or computer; and, in higher reward tiers, the OpenBCI Board, which will allow you experiment with brain control right out of the box.
"By donating to this Kickstarter, you will be supporting our efforts to make the existing OpenBCI hardware ready for mass production and available to the general public," Murphy and Russomanno said. "In addition, you will be joining the OpenBCI community where people of all ages, locations and backgrounds can contribute to unlocking the mysteries of the human brain. We envision BCIs revolutionising everything from neural gaming and augmented reality to meditation and concentration aids. We hope to see OpenBCI lead to toys and tools we haven't even thought of yet!"
A minimum pledge of US$269 will get you the signal capture system, sans electrodes; for those, you'll need to bump it up to US$294. To add the OpenBCI Board, you'll need to pledge US$314. All have an estimated delivery date of March 2014.
There are some quite detailed tech specs over on the Kickstarter page, so head over to take a look for yourself.