OpenBCI Kickstarts an open-source platform for mind-machine melding
By Heidi Hoopes
January 4, 2014
Last year saw a rise in brain-controlled interfaces allowing users to control devices with their thoughts (read more about it in our overview of 2013’s scientific innovations). But unless you have access to a research lab, you may be forced to rely on EEG monitoring devices that close off access to data, or restrict how you can use sensors. The OpenBCI project on Kickstarter aims to address these problems with an EEG platform that simplifies viewing and utilizing brainwaves, for researchers and hobbyists alike.
Joel Murphy and Conor Russomanno, founders of OpenBCI, first became frustrated with the commercially available EEG technologies while developing a “BrainCap” for storing EEG information while on the go. These systems have proprietary algorithms and fix the number and positions of electrodes. Murphy and Russomanno felt that the field was too new to constrain which options were available to users.
Their OpenBCI alternative is based around a Texas Instruments EEG chip which offers 24 bits and eight channels of recording, and is specifically designed to measure small EEG signals. The OpenBCI board and code libraries are written in way that simplifies interaction with the chip, and are available to Kickstarter backers as either an Atmel chip with Arduino, or microchip using chipKIT as the bootloader.
The final system will also rely on Bluetooth for sending and receiving data, and will have an SD card slot for storage. One platform has eight channels, where each channel corresponds to input from a single electrode, but the system can be daisy-chained with additional boards to multiply the number of channels.
In addition to recording EEG signals, the software will also include a “suite” for ECG and EMG signals (heartbeat and muscle activity, respectively).
While using OpenBCI to create meaningful applications is still not “easy," the system is designed to make it easier for amateurs to use EEG data for their own personal applications. OpenBCI is supporting developers with project resources, templates, and a community of developers and researchers. Additionally, Russomanno explained over email that one of the planned stretch goals is an “interface for crowdsourcing well-structured experiments and collecting neurofeedback data”.
Given that brain-computer interface hacking is already a developing field, the developers have begun to receive feedback on what users would like to implement with their platform. One project they’re working with directly is a thought-controlled, hands-free drawing tool.
The project is currently halfway through its Kickstarter campaign and getting ready to announce some interesting stretch goals, according to Russomanno. Early next week they’ll be announcing a reward to enhance the usability and customizability of EEG monitoring.
While the usual caveats about Kickstarter pledges apply, the OpenBCI team has the merit of having demonstrated a prototype at World Maker Faire in September, where it won the Educator’s Choice Award.
If you are interested in supporting their goal to create an open platform for brain-computer interfaces, and hope to obtain your own OpenBCI platform out of the process, a pledge of US$299 will qualify you for that reward. The campaign ends on January 22, with anticipated delivery of pledge rewards in March, contingent upon a successful production cycle.
Below is their Kickstarter pitch video, which explains the merits of OpenBCI and how one might use the system.