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EEG headset makes surfing brain's waves easier

Electroencephalogram headset could be used for neuro-feedback, safety (no sleeping behind wheel), entertainment (game adjustments based on mood).

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Don't stare--she's just recording her brain activity. IMEC

A prototype wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) headset debuts this week at the Medical Device and Manufacturing conference and exhibition in Anaheim, Calif., and European developers IMEC and Holst Centre say it could lead to not just neuro-feedback but improved safety (no more sleeping behind the wheel) and entertainment (real-time video game adjustments based on the user's mood).

Currently, recording the brain's electrical activity involves having subjects sit in a lab or hospital room and perform activities over 20 or so minutes with electrodes placed via gel all over their scalp.

So as strange as this prototype headgear may look, the advantages are numerous: ultralow power electronics, dry electrodes, wireless real-time transmission of high-quality EEG signals to a receiver within 10 meters, and the ability to record activity in real-life scenarios.

Side effects may include, but are not limited to, people staring and asking unsolicited questions, which may or may not interfere with EEG results.

The EEG system is 22x35x5 millimeters, so it could be embedded in helmets, headsets, and so on. With power usage at just 3.3mW for continuous recording and transmitting of one channel (i.e., a waveform representing the difference between two adjacent electrodes) and 9.3mW for eight channels, the device can run on a small 100mAh Li-ion battery for up to four days.

The European developers admit in their news release that this EEG system is still in development: "Industry can get access to this technology by joining the Human++ program as research partner or by licensing agreements for further product development."

In late 2009, IMEC and Holst Centre unveiled a creative ECG monitor whose heartbeat detection algorithm was embedded in a processor worn like a necklace around the user's neck. Whether an EEG system can ever be so well disguised remains to be seen, but at least this initial design is nice and shiny.