Controlling an object with your mind might sound sci-fi, but it’s not. Researchers and hobbyists have been converting brainwaves into computer commands for years now for applications like moving a prosthetic limb or piloting a drone.
OpenBCI is a palm-sized board meant to make mind-controlled devices a little less sci-fi and a little more accessible. For a special Kickstarter price of $300, backers can get their hands on a board to measure and process brainwaves and put them into action.
While it will still require a great deal of expertise to work with, the OpenBCI still looks promising for its size and relative simplicity. When I visited the Noisebridge hackerspace for the first time last year, members told me about M.C. Hawking, a broken down wheelchair they had converted into a mind-controlled robot. Brain waves were recorded with a giant, ancient EEG machine they kept in the corner; not exactly simple or portable.
But M.C. Hawking is the perfect example of why a device like this is such a big deal. This isn’t something that only interests scientists stuck away in a lab at a university. Hackers and hobbyists want to play with brain-computer interfaces too, and they’re not about to wait for the field to mature before they dive in. The OpenBCI is one of a growing number of devices that will help them leapfrog existing barriers to entry.
One annoyance with the OpenBCI design being offered on Kickstarter is you still have to glue electrodes to your head. OpenBCI is also pursuing an interesting alternative though: 3D printed headsets that cling to the wearer’s head. Along with size, the placement of electrodes can be customized–similar to how alternatives like the EPOC work.
OpenBCI is not the first team to pursue a project like this, but its successful Kickstarter campaign is a promising start. Units will begin shipping to backers in March, after which we will hopefully start to see some very cool applications.