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!

Arduino Powered ECG Informs Users of Their Death

Just when you thought you’d seen an Arduino do everything, [birdyberth] built an Arduino powered Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). Electrocardiography is a non invasive method of studying the heart. For many of us that means a 10 minute test during our yearly physical exam. Medical grade ECGs can use up to 10 electrodes. To keep things simple [birdyberth] went the route of a few circuits we’ve seen before, and reduced it to two electrodes and a ground reference. [birdyberth] makes note that the circuit is only safe if battery power is used.

The “heart” of any ECG is an instrumentation amplifier. Instrumentation amplifiers can be thought of as super differential amplifiers. They have buffered inputs, low DC offset, low drift, low noise, high open loop gain, and high impedance among other favorable characteristics. The downside is cost. A typical op amp might cost 0.50 USD in single piece quantities. Instrumentation amplifiers, like [birdyberth’s] INA128 can cost $8.30 or (much) more each. The extra cost is understandable when one thinks about the signals being measured. The ECG is “picking up” the heart’s electrical signals from the outside on skin. On commonly used ECG graph paper, a 1mm square translates to about .1 mV. High gain and clean signals are really needed to get any meaningful data here.

Electrodes are another important part of an ECG. Medical grade ECG units typically use disposable adhesive electrodes that make a strong electrical connection to the skin, and hurt like heck when they’re ripped off by the nurse. [birdyberth] was able to make electrodes using nothing more than tin foil and paper clips. We think the real trick is in the shower gel he used to make an electrical connection to his skin. While messy, the gel provides a low resistance path for the tiny currents to flow.

The actual processing in [birdyberth’s] circuit is easy to follow. The signal from the instrumentation amplifier is sent through a low pass filter, through a 741 op amp, and then on to the Arduino. The Arduino uses a 16×2 LCD to display heart rate in beats per minute, along with a friendly message informing you if you are alive or dead. The circuit even provides audible feedback for heart beats, and the classic “flatline tone” when the users either disconnects the electrodes or expires. [birdyberth] has also plugged in his pocket oscilloscope just after the low pass filter. As his video shows, the familiar ECG waveform is clearly visible. We’d love to see a more complex version of this hack combined with [Addie’s] heart simulator, so we could know exactly which heart malady is killing us in real time!

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Wearing a Homemade EKG Whilst Base Jumping!


[Andrew Wilson] is a pretty extreme guy. He base jumps for fun, and is also a hacker. And while you can try to explain the awesome adrenaline rush that comes with this kind of extreme hobby, it’d be nice if you could show it off, you know, quantitatively. So, he decided to make his own EKG, pair it with his GoPro, and go for a jump!

An EKG is an electrocardiogram — a fancy term for a heart rate monitor — and [Andrew’s] has built his own using a small instrument amplifier circuit. This circuit amplifies the differential signal put out by your heart. The data are fed through an ADC on an Arduino Uno, and then saved to a SD card. He also added a piezo buzzer to try to help sync the data to the video — unfortunately it was too quiet for the GoPro to pick up. So for now he’s stuck with pressing record and start on his EKG at the same time.

Once he was satisfied with a few safe tests, he decided to take it for a base jump. For our viewing pleasure, he’s taken the data collected from the EKG and post-processed it into a nice scrolling graph overlay for the video.

We guarantee your hands will get sweaty as his heart rate goes up as he prepares to make the plunge.

Continue reading “Wearing a Homemade EKG Whilst Base Jumping!”