Coming soon: Control your computer with your brain via open source

Funds pour in for Kickstarter project to create an open source interface through which your brain controls your computer

It's the long-awaited dream of many users: to control one's computer by simply thinking at it. Now, thanks to a small gang of folks in New York City, that dream might be a step or two closer for most everyone.

Joel Murphy and Conor Russomanno, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based pair (designer and engineer, respectively), pooled their resources to launch the OpenBCI project. Their mission: to create an affordable EEG-reading headset device that allows "access to high-quality, raw EEG data with minimal power consumption," but forsaking the use of any "blackbox algorithms or proprietary hardware designs."

Rather than try to get a company to invest in making OpenBCI a reality, they've elected instead to sponsor the large-scale manufacture of production-quality OpenBCI units through a Kickstarter project. The project was launched with a $100,000 goal; as of this writing, they've racked up $112,096, with over a week to go. If the project reaches $150,000 in donations, an accelerometer will be added as a standard element to every OpenBCI board.

The OpenBCI controller uses the Texas Instruments ADS1299 Analog Front End IC, and the open source software used to drive the board will be available with interfaces for multiple languages and a number of existing open source EEG signal processing applications. Another key part of the project is how the headgear -- which is worn by the user to place the electrodes against the skull -- is an open design, and it can be configured on a per-user basis.

Two previous iterations of the OpenBCI board have already been developed and made into prototypes, which connect to the Arduino hobby computer. The first iteration was unveiled in September 2013 at Maker Faire NYC; the second, a factory prototype, was released two months later. The third version, which includes Bluetooth LE connectivity and a number of other improvements, is set to be released sometime around April 2014.

Using the brain to control a PC is still very much a prototypical technology, but is shaping up in fits and starts. Back in 2008, quadriplegics could use a brain interface to move an onscreen cursor without lifting a finger. As of 2011, Japanese government researchers had developed a wheelchair that could be controlled with thought. In the same vein, the company Guger Technologies created a "thought-typing" system, which allows a user to type by simply thinking about the letters they want to use.

"We feel that the biggest challenges in understanding what makes us who we are cannot be solved by a company, an institution, or even an entire field of science," Murphy and Russomanno wrote. By making OpenBCI a project where every piece of the project is open -- where the electronics are fully documented, and where the headgear itself can be created with 3D printing -- they feel a far broader range of people can leverage the results.

This article, "Coming soon: Control your computer with your brain via open source," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.