Hack Your Brain: the McCollough Effect

There is a fascinating brain reaction known as the McCollough Effect which is like side-loading malicious code through your eyeballs. Although this looks and smells like an optical illusion, the science would argue otherwise. What Celeste McCollough observed in 1965 can be described as a contingent aftereffect although we refer to this as “The McCollough Effect” due to McCollough being the first to recognize this phenomena. It’s something that can’t be unseen… sometimes affecting your vision for months!

I am not suggesting that you experience the McCollough Effect yourself. We’ll look at the phenomena of the McCollough Effect, and it can be understood without subjecting yourself to it. If you must experience the McCollough Effect you do so at your own risk (here it is presented as a video). But read on to understand what is happening before you take the plunge.

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Amplifying the Body’s Own Electricity

Measuring the body’s electrical signals is a neat trick… if you can get your equipment dialed in enough to establish dependable measurements. The technique is called Surface ElectroMyography (SEMG) though you’ll hear many call this ECG. They’re essentially the same technology; the Electro CardioGraph instruments monitor the activity of the heart while SEMG Instruments monitor electrical signals used to control other muscles. Both types of hardware amount to an instrumentation type amplifier and some form of I/O or display.

This topic has been in my back pocket for many months now. Back in May we Hackaday’ites descended on New York City for the Disrupt NY Hackathon event. We arrived a day or so early so that we might better peruse the Korean BBQ joints and check out the other electronics that NY has to offer. On Saturday we gathered around, each shouting out the size of his or her t-shirt preference as we covered up our black Hackaday logo tees with maroon maroon ones (sporting the Hackaday logo of course) for a 24-hour craze of hardware hacking.

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There were two individuals at our tables who were both hacking away on hardware to measure the electrical field produced by the body’s muscles in some form or another. The electrical signals measured from the skin are small, and need careful consideration to measure the signal despite the noise. This is a fun experiment that lets you work with both Instrumentation Amplifiers and OpAmps to achieve a usable signal from the movement of your body.

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Chewing Gum Plus Carbon Nanotubes

Normally, strain sensors are limited in their flexibility by the underlying substrate. This lead researchers at the University of Manitoba to an off-the-wall solution: mixing carbon nanotubes into a chewing-gum base. You can watch their demo video below the break.

The procedure, documented with good scientific rigor, is to have a graduate student chew a couple sticks of Doublemint for half an hour, and then wash the gum in ethanol and dry it out overnight. Carbon nanotubes are then added, and the gum is repeatedly stretched and folded, like you would with pizza dough, to align the ‘tubes. After that, just hook up electrodes and measure the resistance as you bend it.

The obvious advantage of a gum sensor is that it’s slightly sticky and very stretchy. The team says it works when stretched up to five times its resting length. Try that with your Power Glove.

We’ve seen a couple different DIY flex sensor solutions around these parts, one based on compressing black conductive foam and another using anti-static bags, but the high-tech, low-tech mixture of nanotubes and Wrigley’s is a new one.

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Kay Igwe Explains Brain Gaming Through SSVEP


We had some incredible speakers at the Hackaday SuperConference. One of the final talks was given by [Kay Igwe], a graduate electrical engineering student at Columbia University. [Kay] has worked in nanotechnology as well as semiconductor manufacturing for Intel. These days, she’s spending her time playing games – but not with her hands.

Many of us love gaming, and probably spend way too much time on our computers, consoles, or phones playing games. But what about people who don’t have the use of their hands, such as ALS patients? Bringing gaming to the disabled is what prompted  [Kay] to work on Control iT, a brain interface for controlling games. Brain-computer interfaces invoke images of Electroencephalography (EEG) machines. Usually that means tons of electrodes, gel in your hair, and data which is buried in the noise.

[Kay Igwe] is exploring a very interesting phenomenon that uses flashing lights to elicit very specific, and easy to detect brain waves. This type of interface is very promising and is the topic of the talk she gave at this year’s Hackaday SuperConference. Check out the video of her presentation, then join us after the break as we dive into the details of her work.

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Swallow the Doctor — The Present and Future of Robots Inside Us

I recently finished the Silo series by Hugh Howey, a self-published collection of novellas that details life in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world where all that remains of humanity has been stuffed into subterranean silos. It has a great plot with some fun twists and plenty of details to keep the hacker and sci-fi fan entertained.

One such detail is nanorobots, used in later volumes of the series as both life-extending tools and viciously specific bio-weapons. Like all good reads, Silo is mainly character driven, so Howey doesn’t spend a lot of eInk on describing these microscopic machines – just enough detail to move the plot along. But it left me wondering about the potential for nanorobotics, and where we are today with the field that dates back to Richard Feynman’s suggestion that humans would some day “swallow the doctor” in a 1959 lecture and essay called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”

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Conductive Circuit Board Tattoos: Tech Tats

While hardcore body-hackers are starting to freak us out with embedded circuit boards under their skin, a new more realistic option is becoming available — temporary tech tattoos. They’re basically wearable circuit boards.

Produced by [Chaotic Moon], the team is excited to explore the future of skin-mounted components — connected with conductive ink in the form of a temporary tattoo. And if you’re still thinking why, consider this. If these tattoos can be used as temporary health sensors, packed with different biometric readings, the “tech tat” can be applied when it is needed, in order to monitor specific things.

In one of their test cases, they mount an ATiny85 connected to temperature sensors and an ambient light sensor on the skin. A simple device like this could be used to monitor someone’s vitals after surgery, or could even be used as a fitness tracker. Add a BLE chip, and you’ve got wireless data transfer to your phone or tablet for further data processing.

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3D Printed Peristalic Pump Has Impressive Capabilities

[Frank Zhao’s] grandfather has esophageal cancer. Unfortunately for him, it means he’ll be eating through a tube for a while. This involves someone helping him with a big syringe to push a thick food liquid through the tube. [Frank] knew there had to be a better way. While [Frank] was in the hospital in China visiting, he started designing a 3D printed peristaltic pump. It’s what you would expect: a mechanism that massages a loop of plastic tubing to push the contents further down the path.

After he got back to the States he refined his design a bit more and started 3D printing. As it turns out — it works pretty damn well. In the following video he shows it pumping mayonaise — and since it’s peristalic, no priming of the pump required!

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