Hacklet 56 – Brain Hacks

The brain is the most powerful – and least understood computer known to man. For these very reasons, working with the mind has long been an attraction for hackers, makers, and engineers. Everything from EEG to magnetic stimulus to actual implants have found their way into projects. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best brain hacks on Hackaday.io!

teensy-bio[Paul Stoffregen], father of the Teensy, is hard at work on Biopotential Signal Library, his entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. [Paul] isn’t just hacking his own mind, he’s creating a library and reference design using the Teensy 3.1. This library will allow anyone to read electroencephalogram (EEG) signals without having to worry about line noise filtering, signal processing, and all the other details that make recording EEG signals hard. [Paul] is making this happen by having the Teensy’s cortex M4 processor perform interrupt driven acquisition and filtering in the background. This leaves the user’s Arduino sketch free to actually work with the data, rather than acquiring it. The initial hardware design will collect data from TI ADS129x chips, which are 24 bit ADCs with 4 or 8 simultaneous channels. [Paul] plans to add more chips to the library in the future.


bioxNext up is [Jae Choi] with Lucid Dream Communication Link. [Jae] hopes to create a link between the dream world and the real world. To do this, they are utilizing BioEXG, a device [Jae] designed to collect several types of biological signals. Data enters the system through several active probes. These probes use common pogo pins to make contact with the wearer’s skin. [Jae] says the active probes were able to read EEG signals even through their thick hair! Communication between dreams and the real world will be accomplished with eye movements. We haven’t heard from [Jae] in awhile – so we hope they aren’t caught in limbo!

bioloop[Qquuiinn] is working from a different angle to build bioloop, their entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Rather than using EEG signals, [Qquuiinn] is going with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR). GSR is easy to measure compared to EEG signals. [Qquuiinn] is using an Arduino Pro Mini to perform all their signal acquisition and processing. This biofeedback signal has been used for decades by devices like polygraph “lie detector” machines. GSR values change as the sweat glands become active. It provides a window into a person’s psychological or physiological stress levels. [Qquuiinn] hopes bioloop will be useful both to individuals and to mental health professionals.

biomonitorFinally we have [Marcin Byczuk] with Biomonitor. Biomonitor can read both EEG and electrocardiogram (EKG) signals. Unlike the other projects on today’s Hacklet, Biomonitor is wireless. It uses a Bluetooth radio to transmit data to a nearby PC or smartphone. The main processor in Biomonitor is an 8 bit ATmega8L. Since the 8L isn’t up to a lot of signal processing, [Marcin] does much of his filtering the old fashioned way – in hardware. Carefully designed op-amp based active filters provide more than enough performance when measuring these types of signals. Biomonitor has already found it’s way into academia, being used in both the PalCom project, and brain-computer interface research.

If you want more brain hacking goodness, check out our brain hacking project list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Gift Your Next Robot With the Brain of a Roundworm

A group of developers called [OpenWorm] have mapped the 302 neurons of the Caenorhabditis elegans species of roundworm and created a virtual neural network that can be used to solve all the types of problems a worm might encounter. Which, when you think about it, aren’t much different from those a floor-crawling robots would be confronted with.


In a demo video released by one of the projects founders, [Timothy Busbice], their network is used to control a small Lego-rover equipped with a forward sonar sensor. The robot is able to stop before it hits a wall and determine an appropriate response, which may be to stop, back up, or turn. This is all pretty fantastic when you compare these 302 neural connections to any code you’ve ever written to accomplish the same task! It might be a much more complex route to the same outcome, but its uniquely organic… which makes watching the little Lego-bot fascinating; its stumbling around even looks more like thinking than executing.

I feel obligated to bring up the implications of this project. Since we’re all thinking about it now, let’s all imagine the human brain similarly mapped and able to simulate complex thought processes. If we can pull this off one day, not only will we learn a lot more about how our squishy grey hard drives process information, artificial intelligence will also improve by leaps and bounds. An effort to do this is already in effect, called the connectome project, however since there are a few more connections to map than with the c. elegans’ brain, it’s a feat that is still underway.

The project is called “open”worm, which of course means you can download the code from their website and potentially dabble in neuro-robotics yourself. If you do, we want to hear about your wormy brain bot.

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Shocking your brain and making yourself smarter


Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation – or tDCS – is the technique of applying electrodes to the skull and running a small but perceptible current through them. It’s not much current – usually on the order of 1 or 2 mA, but the effect of either increasing or decreasing neural activity has led to some interesting studies. [Theo] over on Instructables wrote a tutorial for making his own tDCS suppy that will supply 2 mA to electrodes placed on the skull for everyone to experiment with.

The basic idea behind tDCS is to put the positive electrode over the part of the brain to be excited or the negative electrode over the part of the brain to be inhibited. This is a well-studied technique that can be used to improve mathematical ability. It’s not electroshock therapy (although that is a valid treatment for depression and schizophrenia) in that a seizure is induced; tDCS just applies a small current to specific areas of the brain to excite or inhibit function.

[Theo]’s device is a simple circuit made of a transistor, resistors, and a few diodes to provide about 2 mA to a pair of electrical contacts. With this circuit and a few gel electrode pads for your head, you too can experiment with direct current stimulation of your brain.

Of course we need to warn you about putting electricity into your head. In any event, here’s a quadcopter / stun gun mashup we made. Don’t do that, either. You might get a takedown request.

Mapping the motor cortex

[Bruce] sent us another fantastic final project from the ECE4760 class at Cornell. What you see above is an array of 36 near infra red LEDs shining into this young man’s brain for the purpose of spectroscopy. Light bounces back differently based on brain activity (blood flow). For this project, they are mapping their motor cortex and displaying it on a PC using a java app. You can see the entire rig, as well as the readings in the two videos after the break.

When this tip came in, one of our writers,[Jesse Congdon], chimed in as well.

hey I actually used to work in this as an intern, at Upenn. two frequencies of near infrared light are used that both penetrate skin and bone, one bounces off of blood in general and the other bounces off oxygenated blood. Since your brain actually regulates the flow of blood to parts that are in use you can see brain activity by looking at blood flow, but then you also need to see if the brain is actually using that blood, so oxygenation gives you a full picture. The frontal cortex is a nice place to measure cause there is no hair on that portion of the skull, and it gives you emotional responses and the “aha!” moment when you figure out a problem.

One article from way back said the system was going to be used as a lie detector, since when you lie you think about the truth and the lie simoltaneously and show an increase in activity.

It’s tough though to categorize a response since you can’t really establish “base line” activity by turning off the brain

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Large magnets spark on Halloween, who knew?

This overly large magnet certainly completes the mad scientist look (for an even crazier look, take a jar of water with red food coloring and place in one large cauliflower, instant brain in a jar).

The base of the magnet is painted foam cut with a makeshift hot-knife; to get the magnet sparking [Macegr] laser etched acrylic with a fractal pattern and embedded LEDs in the ends of the acrylic. An Arduino handles the flashing LEDs and also produces a 60Hz PWM pulse for the spark’s hum. The end result is satisfyingly mad, and while practicing your evil ominous laugh catch a video of the magnet after the jump.

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Rat propulsion via brain-machine interface

Our little red-eyed friend can drive this vehicle around with his mind. WITH HIS MIND, MAN!

This is the product of research into adaptive technologies. The process is pretty invasive, implanting neural electrodes in the motor cortex of the brain. The hope is that some day this will be a safe and reliable prospect for returning mobility to paralysis victims.

We found it interesting that the vehicle was trained to react to the rats’ movements. They were allowed to move around a test space under their own power while brain signals were monitored by the electrodes. Video tracking was used to correlate their movements with those signals, and that data is used to command the motors for what the Japanese researchers are calling RatCar.

We can see the possibilities opening up for a mechanized cockroach v. RatCar free-for-all. Something of a battlebots with a live tilt. But we kid, this is actually quite creepy.

[via Neatorama and PopSci]

Hacking the MindFlex, more!

Reader [Eric] sent us a powerfully informative, yet super simple hack for the MindFlex toy. Don’t worry, it’s not another worthless shock ‘game’, And it’s using an actual interface instead of the built-in LEDs.

With two wires for the serial protocol, and an Arduino, you’ll be able to view “signal strength, attention, meditation, delta, theta, low alpha, high alpha, low beta, high beta, low gamma, high gamma” brainwaves. While it’s not medical grade, it’s a lot more intuitive than previous interfaces.

The original intent was for a system called MentalBlock, but we’re wondering what would you do with brainwave data?