The Future is Here: Sweat-Powered Smart Tatoo

smart_tatoosSmart tattoos are the hot ticket item of modern medicine, combining ultra-thin electronics with flexible materials. When they become commonplace, they will be a great way to monitor vital signs and health. The only thing that seems to be holding them back, is finding a way to power them. Tiny batteries are one possibility, but lack practicality, and microwaves are several years away from being feasible.

Luckily, Joseph Wang – a researchers from UCSD – has come up with a way to generate power for these devices without using any external equipment. The secret, is to harness electrons from lactate acid secreted in sweat. These acids are produced when our muscles work to exhaustion, a waste product that causes muscles to “burn”, but which the brain thrives upon. Hence why it is the endpoint in lactate’s metabolization cycle.

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tattoo-640x353.jpgWhen lactate was discovered to be released in sweat, exercise physiologists began developing sensor technology to measure its levels in the sweat and blood. Wang has taken the next logical step of adding provisions to accumulate charge when lactate is enzymatically sensed. By embedding enzymes that process lactate into the tattoo, he was able to extract 70 microwatts per cm² of skin.

The only catch with this tattoo is that you need to be hot – as in pedaling your heart out on a bike for 30 minutes – to get the lactate out. That, however, may not be a barrier to this technology, since it is possible to selectively activate the sympathetic nerves that control the sweat glands in a discrete patch of skin. That way, you override the normal control and can sweat without the heat or exertion.

flexible_elecThe other part of the puzzle would be to actually generate the lactic acid. Preferably, this would be done locally as well, rather than having to have high levels circulating in the blood. But in the end, such steps would not even be necessary considering that a vitals and health monitoring that occurs into a workout – after an initial warm-up and good sweat have taken place – could be just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended!).

Other researchers have already imagined e-tattoos to read your thoughts and desires, either by reading unvocalized words or EEG readings. And compared to past generations of sensor devices, these tattoos represent a sophisticated electronic package with on-board signal processing and communications. With a discrete way to power such devices, a formidable tool for self discovery might be had.


Source:
extremetech.com
, acs.org

The Future is Here: First Brain-to-Brain Interface!

https://i1.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/professor-x-x-men-telepathy-helmet-640x352.jpgIn a first amongst firsts, a team of international researchers have reported that they have built the first human-to-human brain-to-brain interface; allowing two humans — separated by the internet — to consciously communicate with each other. One researcher, attached to a brain-computer interface (BCI) in India, successfully sent words into the brain of another researcher in France, who was wearing a computer-to-brain interface (CBI).

In short, the researchers have created a device that allows people to communicate telepathically. And it’s no surprise, given the immense amount of progress being made in the field. Over the last few years, brain-computer interfaces that you can plug into your computer’s USB port have been commercially available. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen advanced BCIs that can be implanted directly into your brain.

BCICreating a brain-to-brain connection is a bit more difficult though, as it requires that brain activity not only be read, but inputted into someone else’s brain. Now, however, a team of international researchers have cracked it. On the BCI side of things, the researchers used a fairly standard EEG (electroencephalogram) from Neuroelectrics. For the CBI, which requires a more involved setup, a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) rig was used.

To break the process down, the BCI reads the sender’s thoughts, like to move their hands or feet, which are then broken down into binary 1s and 0s. These encoded thoughts are then transmitted via the internet (or some other network) to the recipient, who is wearing a TMS. The TMS is focused on the recipient’s visual cortex, and it receives a “1″ from the sender, it stimulates a region in the visual cortex that produces a phosphene.

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/brain-to-brain-bci-eeg-tms.jpgThis is a phenomenon whereby a person sees flashes of light, without light actually hitting the retina. The recipient “sees” these phosphenes at the bottom of their visual field, and by decoding the flashes — phosphene flash = 1, no phosphene = 0 — the recipient can “read” the word being sent. While this is certainly a rather complex way of sending messages from one brain to another, for now, it is truly state of the art.

TMS is somewhat similar to TDCS (transcranial direct-current stimulation), in that it can stimulate regions of neurons in your brain. But instead of electrical current, it uses magnetism, and is a completely non-invasive way of stimulating certain sections of the brain and allowing a person to think and feel a certain way. In short, there doesn’t need to be any surgery or electrodes implanted into the user’s brain to make it happen.

brain-to-brain-interfacingThis method also neatly sidestep the fact that we really don’t know how the human brain encodes information. And so, for now, instead of importing a “native” message, we have to use our own encoding scheme (binary) and a quirk of the visual cortex. And even if it does seem a little bit like hard work, there’s no denying that this is a conscious, non-invasive brain-to-brain connection.

With some refinement, it’s not hard to imagine a small, lightweight EEG that allows the sender to constantly stream thoughts back to the receiver. In the future, rather than vocalizing speech, or vainly attempting to vocalize one’s own emotions, people could very well communicate their thoughts and feelings via a neural link that is accommodated by simple headbands with embedded sensors.

Brain-ScanAnd imagine a world where instant messaging and video conferencing have the added feature of direct thought sharing. Or an The Internet of Thoughts, where people can transfer terabytes worth of brain activity the same way they share video, messages and documents. Remember, the internet began as a small-scale connection between a few universities, labs and research projects.

I can foresee a similar network being built between research institutions where professors and students could do the same thing. And this could easily be followed by a militarized version where thoughts are communicated instantly between command centers and bunkers to ensure maximum clarity and speed of communication. My how the world is shaping up to be a science fiction novel!

Sources: extremetech.com, neurogadget.com, dailymail.co.uk

The Future is Here: Mind-Controlled Airplanes

screen-shot-2014-05-27-at-10-39-41-am.pngBrainwaves can now be used to control an impressive number of things these days: prosthetics, computers, quadroptors, and even cars. But recent research released by the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany indicates that they might also be used to flying an aircraft. Using a simple EEG cap that read their brainwaves, a team of researchers demonstrated that thoughts alone could navigate a plane.

Using seven people for the sake of their experiment, the research team hooked them all up to a cap containing dozens of electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes. They then sat them down in a flight simulator and told them to steer the plane using their thoughts alone. The cap read the electrical signals from their brains and an algorithm then translated those signals into computer commands.

https://i2.wp.com/images.gizmag.com/inline/mind-control-uav-1.PNGAccording to the researchers, the accuracy with which the test subjects stayed on course was what was truly impressive. Not to mention the fact that the study participants weren’t all pilots and had varying levels of flight experience, with one having no experience at all. And yet, of the seven participants, all performed well enough to satisfy some of the criteria for getting a pilot’s license. Several of the subjects also managed to land their planes under poor visibility.

The research was part of an EU-funded program called ” Brainflight.” As Tim Fricke, an aerospace engineer who heads the project at TUM, explained:

A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people. With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.

prosthetic_originalWith this successful test under their belts, the TU München scientists are focusing in particular on the question of how planes can provide feedback to their “mind pilots”. Ordinarily, pilots feel resistance in steering and must exert significant force when they are pushing their aircraft to its limits, and hence rely upon to gauge the state of their flight. This is missing with mind control, and must be addressed before any such system can be adapted to a real plane.

In many ways, I am reminded of the recent breakthroughs being made in mind-controlled prosthetics. After succeeding in creating prosthetic devices that could convert nerve impulses into controls, the next step became creating devices that could stimulate nerves in order to provide sensory feedback. Following this same developmental path, mind-controlled flight could become viable within a few years time.

Mind-controlled machinery, sensory feedback… what does this sound like to you?

Sources: cnet.com, sciencedaily.com

The Future is Here: 3-D Printed Brain Scanner

openbciWhen it comes to cutting-edge technology in recent years, two areas of development have been taking the world by storm. On the one hand, there’s 3-D printing (aka. Additive Manufacturing) that is revolutionizing the way we fabricate things. On the other, there’s brain-computer interfaces (BCI), which are giving people the power to control machines with their minds and even transfer their thoughts.

And now, two inventors – Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy – are looking to marry the two worlds in order to create the first, open-source brain scanner that people can print off at home. Thanks to funding from DARPA, the two men printed off their first prototype headset this past week. It’s known as the OpenBCI, and it’s likely to make brain scanning a hell of a lot more affordable in the near future.

openbci1It includes a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black, skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which can be created with a 3-D printer. Assembled, it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to a PC, compared to  high-grade EEG machines used by laboratories and researchers that cost thousands of dollars.

But over the past few years, cheaper models have been made by companies like Emotiv, which have in turn allowed a new era of DIY brain hackers to conduct brainwaves experiments. Since that time, everything from games, computer interfaces, personal tracking tools, and self-directed mind enhancement have been available to regular people.

openbci2But Russomanno and Murphy felt the community needed a completely open-source platform if it was truly going to take off – hence the OpenBCI. The hardware to build the headset can be ordered from the company, while the software to run it is available through GitHub, a popular code sharing site. Once procured, people will have the ability to print off, program, and adjust their own personal brain scanning device.

According to Russomanno, the greatest asset of the headset (aside from the price) is the freedom it gives to brain hackers to put their EEG probes anywhere they like:

You don’t want to limit yourself to looking to just a few places on the scalp. You can target up to 64 locations on the scalp with a maximum of 16 electrodes at a time.

As it stands, Russomanno and Murphy have built the prototype headset, but still need to raise money to build the mini-computer that it plugs into. To accomplish this, the two inventors launched a Kickstarter project to fund the development of the Arduino-compatible hardware. Last week, they reached their goal of $100,000, and expect to ship their first systems in March.

openbci3The current design of the hardware, which looks more like a hexagonly-shaped circuit board than a computer, is their third incarnation. In addition to being smaller and Adruino-compatible, the third version is also programmable via Bluetooth and has a port for an SD card. When the hardware starts shipping, Russomanno expects it to kick off a new round of experimentation:

We’ve got about 300 people that have already donated to receive the board. If you’re willing to spend $300 for a piece of technology, you’re definitely going to build something with it.

One of the hallmarks of technological revolutions is the ability to make the technology scalable and more affordable. In this way, its benefits (aka. returns) are able to multiply and expand. And with the help of open-source devices like these that people can create on 3-D printers (which are also dropping in prices) the returns on mind-controlled devices are likely to grow exponentially in the coming years.

In short, the age of mind-controlled machinery may be just around the corner. Good to know they will be obeying us and not the other way around!


Sources:
wired.com, kickstarter.com