Neuroscience has gone (almost) mainstream

A few years ago I came across the Emotiv EEG headset and was really tempted to buy one to try it out and get an understanding of how it could be used to help people with disabilities engage with and operate technology. At about the same time I discovered three really smart people from Auckland University were doing the same thing so I took the easy option and started following their work.

Fast forward until mid-2014 and the same smart people (known as Thought Wired) now offer the NeuroSky EEG headset to the public so everyone can get their hands on the technology. So I did. For an introductory price of only $159 I picked up my headset late last week and started to play.

Firstly, whats in the box.

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Not much really! As you would expect there is a headset. Accompanying that is a quick-start guide showing you how to wear the headset correctly and how to connect to a device using Bluetooth. The model Thought Wired are selling is the Mindwave Mobile version so it can connect to PC and Mac, but also all your iDevices and Android devices. The CD in the box has software to install on PC and Mac with the Starter applications, I connected to my iPad and downloaded the free apps from the App store.

MindOMeterOnce connected to your device via Bluetooth start up the Tutorial and it will step you through controlling concentration and meditation; it seems as though these are the two strongest brain signals that it uses to do stuff. The Brainwave visualiser that comes free is interesting, thats my brain hard at work over there on the left! Apparently each of the coloured bands is a different signal; the top two are my Attention and Meditation levels, followed by Delta, Theta, Low Alpha, High Alpha, Low Beta, High Beta, Low Gamma and Mid Gamma waves. To be honest I have no idea what any of them mean, but I figured there are lines and they are moving so my brain is working!

I wanted to see just what I could do with it, other than looking at lines on a screen so headed over to the NeuroSky app store and downloaded a game called ‘Adventures of Neuroboy’ for the laptop. Whilst not that amazing as far as games go, there is a certain satisfaction to being able to lift objects with your mind, or blowing up cars just by thinking about it! For developers there is a growing community online that supports Android, iOS, .NET, Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Unity 3D.

The Thought Wired team have also developed their own development platform for a number of different brain-sensing products called Xi (pronounced ‘zai’ apparently!) that is currently in closed Alpha. If you are a developer though I would encourage you to get in touch with them! They have done some really cool things already with this technology, including interfacing it with a Windows Laptop and a Dynavox Maestro communications device. You can read about that project here.

This headset may not be the full-blown research-grade device like the Emotiv (which is available for purchase in July and pre-orders now being taken) but at less than NZ$160 it is pretty powerful and a great way to get started in this field of technology. Get yours now from the Thought Wired team’s website.

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