In the year and a half since I posted Control Your Computer With Your Brainwaves — TED Conference Video which highlighted a presentation at the Ted Conference by Tan Lee, from the EEG biofeedback device developer Emotive Systems the development of Brain Computer Interface (BCI) has accelerated at an amazing rate. In fact the acronym BCI is used so widely that when I saw it the first few times on some of the sites I am going to mention in this post, I was not sure what it represented.
For example, there is a UK blog called thinktech with the tagline The UK’s Leading Brain-Computer Interface, Mind Controlled & Neurotechnology Gadget Blog which I stumbled upon while Googling on the subject which first tipped me off about the rapid proliferation of BCI that has taken place. I would recommend taking a look at that blog to get a notion of the diversity of development taking place.
Just in the past couple of years, a number of devices which use EEG biofeedback have become available at prices which most would consider affordable. You can get a rundown of these devides on one of those thematic Wikipedia pages that have begun popping up a lot recently called Comparison of Computer brain-computer interfaces.
I recently purchased one of these gadgets called Neurosky Mindwave at a web store appropriately named ThinkGeek. Until recently, the cheapest mobile EEG biofeedback device cost over a thousand dollers but this one cost under a hundred bucks.
Neurosky developed a complete brain wave biofeedback device on a small circuit board that it uses in Mindwave as well as some some higher end devices targets at researchers and rich people. It also licenses the board for other companies to use. Toymaker Mattel uses the board popular toys Mindflex and Mindflex Duel Another company Uncle Milton Science Toys makes a toy called Star Wars Science – Force Trainer.
The Mindwave device is not aimed at kids but rather at adult geeks like myself. So I spent a few hours playing around with the device. Although Mindwave is packaged Apple style in a artfully decorated boy with just the headset, a USB dongle and a CD-ROM, using the device is anything but simple. I’ve used similar types of devices before in my role as head of the Mindware catalog and before that in a college class at UC Santa Cruz back in the late seventies with the guy who invented biofeedback. Dr. Joe Kamiya.
All of those credentials did not make using Mindwave any easier. I first hooked it to one of my Windows Workstations. I installed the software and it even updated itself from the Internet. Putting on the headset was fairly awkward and when i went to the Neorsky website, I found out that there were several more sophisticated headsets which did not use plastic and which apparently made it easier to clip one part of the headset to your ear and press the other to your forehead without inflicting quite as much pain as I did on my try.
Worst of all, once all properly set up, I could not get any of the applications what came with the device to register my brainwaves. I went to the Neurosky app store and found out that there were hundreds of apps for the device. Neurosky has made available a developers toolkit and created a software API for the device. Unfortunately the most promising ones I could find in their app catalog were fairly expensive.
I finally downloaded a 14 day demo of a Windows program called Mind Workstation by a developer I know called Transparent Corp. The program has built in drivers for the Mindwave as well as other devices by Neurosky, Emotive and several more. However, again no luck. So I gave up for the day.
Thinking about the situation later, I had an aha moment remembering when I demoed a another device of its type and found that it worked better with my Macintosh than with Windows. So I gave it a shot and and after another hour or some of trial and error, I managed to get one of the supplied programs called Meditation Journal to display my brain waves.
That was about an hour ago. Later, I’m going to give a shot at using the same program on the Windows computer and now that I know what to look for, I can probably get it to work there as well.
Most of the biofeedback games on the market until this year like those from Journey to Wild Divine use GSR biofeedback. GSR is short for Galvanic Skin Response which means that the sensors measure the electrical conductivity of your skin.
This new generation of brain games use EEG which is short for Electroencephalogram. The devices measure brain waves that are found at the surface of your scalp. Although this is a bit more promising of direct brain computer connection, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome before we all are writing blog posts by brain waves.