Track your body’s signals and brain waves
and use them to control things.
By Sean M. Montgomery and Ira M. Laefsky
As we engage with the world, our bodies react with unconscious
signals that until recently have been measured almost exclusively
in doctor’s offices and research labs: nerves fire, eyes saccade,
hormones release, etc. But the past decade has seen an explosion
of inexpensive biosensors and bio-enabled products ranging from
cardio watches to brain wave-controlled video games.
The utility of biosensing applications should
multiply as more people hook themselves in
and network their signals. But this future raises
questions: will Big Brother have access to
your thoughts and feelings? Makers can guide
biosensing’s future not only by creating new
applications but also by hacking commercial
systems and providing oversight to enforce
a balance between utility and privacy.
This article reviews the bio-signals that
hobbyist-accessible equipment can read, then
details two projects: the Truth Meter and the
Brain Blinker. The Truth Meter, which is easily
built on a solderless breadboard, detects
increased levels of sweating (and therefore
arousal) by measuring skin conductance.
The Brain Blinker shows how to use a
$200 EEG headset to plot live brain wave
readings and send them into an Arduino
microcontroller. The Arduino displays the data
on an LED bar, and can just as easily be programmed to perform other functions with it.
Tools to measure such phenomena as heart
rate, brain waves, blood pressure, skin resistance, and even facial expressions are now
inexpensively available to DIYers.
The possibilities of jacking into these
bio-signals seem virtually endless, verging
on science fiction. By monitoring some phenomena (biofeedback) you can train yourself
to modulate them, possibly improving your
emotional state. Biosensing lets you interact
more naturally with digital systems, creating
cyborg-like extensions of your body that overcome disabilities or provide new abilities. You
can also share your bio-signals, if you choose,
to participate in new forms of communication.
Photography by Cody Pickens
Sean Montgomery ( produceconsumerobot.com) has a Ph.D.
in neuroscience and works as an engineering consultant, new
media artist, and entrepreneur in New York City.
In 1977, Ira Laefsky co-developed the first computer menu
system based on eye-gaze tracking. He is a retired senior consultant for Digital Equipment Corporation and Arthur D. Little.
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