Controlling things with your mind is hard work.
I’ve been seeing more articles about a cool platform lately and wanted to write a bit about why I think it’s exciting that, like 3d printers or wearable electronics, this technology is becoming more accessible. The topic: mind control… seriously. Actually, that is overly sensationalist but the ability to induce physical actions outside the body via use of the brain is becoming much more common. Long the province of well-funded research labs, the technology is finally now being commercialized by both DIYers and companies.
I decided to write about this when I read about the Pyrokinesis for Alex project, where some members of the Site3 coLaboratory in Toronto rigged up a setup that uses a wireless EEG headset and control unit to allow the user to control a flamethrower with his/her mind (appealing to both the pyromania and the love of comic books of my inner 8-year-old).
The technology required is surprisingly simple and the headsets are pretty user-friendly from an interface perspective. For instance, the NeuroSky MindSet used for the PK4A project uses one dry sensor on the forehead and three reference sensors on the ear. Its output includes raw brainwave data, brainwave band values and two values for “attention” and “meditation” which are computed by a proprietary algorithm. The communication link is via Bluetooth serial with a simple protocol. Emotiv’s system is purported to be able to track eye motion, facial expressions, emotional state and even directional thoughts. The Emotiv EPOC system starts at $300 while the MindSet sells for $200.
But, here’s where it gets cooler. Both companies have made SDKs available for developers and have app stores up and running: just like smart phone app stores except the platform is the brain control headset instead of a phone. Just as we saw the effects of opening up app stores for smart phones on the breadth and variety of phone applications, I think this model will enable a mind-boggling (ha!) array of applications for brain interfaces, from the medical space to entertainment to the workplace.
The space is still in its infancy – I’m sure the next few years will bring significant improvements in the quality and type of data that the headsets can measure as well as the available applications. Even now though I think this is a great example of the kind of science-fiction-esque technology that gives us a glimpse of the future and shows why I am so passionate about mechatronics.