A Connected Brain Is Now Closer to Reality

The past few years have seen a barrage of regular appliances get the gift of internet connection. Toasters, ovens, coffee makers, light bulbs, refrigerators and whatnot can all be controlled remotely via a web connection. Biomedical researchers have now added a new type of node on the wire, one that has long been a topic of the Sci-Fi culture: the human brain.

Jemma-Faye Chait and Danielle Winter, fourth-year students at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), have developed a method to collect brainwave activity and livestream it online in a format friendly even to people without a medical background. The connection, unidirectional at the moment, makes analyzing one’s brain activity as easy as accessing a webpage.

Dubbed ‘Brainternet,’ the project uses a mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) headset to pick up electric brain signals and pass them to a MySQL database using a Raspberry-Pi computer. The data is processed into a chart and displayed in real time on a website. To make the entire ensemble portable, the duo powered the computer with an external battery.

“Brainternet seeks to simplify a person’s understanding of their own brain and the brains of others. It does this through continuous monitoring of brain activity as well as enabling some interactivity,” said Adam Pantanowitz, a lecturer at the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering who supervised the project.

The person wearing the Brainternet setup can watch changes in brain activity as they perform certain movements, allowing the classification of the EEG data for the supported types of motion (e.g. raising an arm, walking). Pantanowitz says that the end goal of the project is exactly this: to provide the user with an interactive interface to see the brain’s response to a stimulus.

Brainternet renders data coming out of the brain and it does not offer a way to get data in, a barrier that researchers have not crossed, yet. However, the project could prove to be a solid stepping stone towards a better understanding of how the brain works. Combined with machine learning and a large pool of data, the project could lead to important discoveries.

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