Category: Neurohacking

New Swarm Controllers

I’ve ordered the second version of the swarm control boards. If you want some, you can get them here, but I advise against doing so until after a post shows up here saying either that they work, or that they’re busted.

In the mean time, I’ve been realizing that the boards are good for all sorts of stupid tricks. For instance, you can control people using galvanic vestibular stimulation, which uses 1-1.5mA at pretty low voltages (More academic version, more hacking). Since the swarm control boards already use a 3.7v lithium cell, additional voltage regulation isn’t needed (if anything, they may be too weak), and PWM can be used to control the current. A resistor in series might also be good, in case of… errors.

The same board could also be connected to a door latch, or magnetic strike, which would let a user connect to a web page (the ESP8266 can serve web pages and act as an AP) and put in a password to open the door. Lockitron appears to be making a business out of selling this, but the mechanics are cheaper.

Given that there’s also an I2C bus on the device, IO expanders, sensors, and other goofiness could be added to make wearables that respond to the environment, smart dust sensors, IoT nodes for home automation, scales that tweet about how much you weigh, etc. IoT is the new black! It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping!




Mindflex EEG Hacking

I got a Mindflex Duel for Christmas. The Mindflex Duel is a toy that uses a pair of EEG headsets to read signals from the users, and then send those signals to a base unit that contains a blower and a little sliding cart to move the blower. The users try to concentrate to control the cart, moving a little ball suspended in the air jet from the blower into a goal.

Needless to say, I gutted it.

The base unit has a little PCB with a 2.4Ghz radio on it, and a little hardware to control the blower and cart motors. The headsets are the really interesting part. Each one has a single-channel EEG and a wireless radio. I took the radios out and replaced them with BlueSmiRF bluetooth-to-serial links so that I could connect them to my laptop. The hardware part of the replacement is below, the software part will be in another post.

The guts of one of the headsets. The 2.4 Ghz radio is the top daughter board, the EEG hardware is the bottom daughter board.


I desoldered the original radio. It works in the same band as Bluetooth, and consumes power, so there was no need to have it there.


The red and black wires supply power for the BlueSmiRF. It can take up to 5 or so volts, but the headset runs on 4.5v, so it is fine to hook it up like this. The red wire is connected to the power switch, rather than V+, so that the power switch also turns off the bluetooth radio.


The white wire goes from the pin labeled “T” on the EEG board to the RX pin on the BlueSmiRF. The T pin of the EEG board is a serial line, which transmits the EEG data to the BlueSmiRF.


Glue the bluetooth radio into place with hot glue. The LEDs on the BlueSmiRF are covered by black paint on the inside of the Mindflex headset, but I scractched away the paint in little circles so the BlueSmiRF status lights would shine through.


The finished product looks stock, until you turn it on. That red light on the side is not normally there.


Notacon Talk on Brain Hacking

This is the talk I gave at Notacon in 2008. It’s kind of goofy, but provides a broad overview of wireheading/neurohacking technologies.

Seizuredome light construction photos

The Seizuredome light is an icosahedron made out of aluminum. Each face is 5.5 inches on a side, so the whole thing ends up being about the size of a soccer ball. Each face has three 1″ aluminum spikes sticking out of it, so that when it is not hanging, it does not rest on any of the LEDs.

The light started life as a sheet of aluminum, 24″ on a side. I plotted the net of the icosahedron by constructing a bunch of equilateral triangles with a compass and straightedge. Geometry class is only useless if you’re not planning to make anything interesting in your life.

Vindication for geometry teachers

After that was all plotted out, I cut it out with tin snips and cut arcs out of the corners with a nibbler. The arcs will make the finished shape have a hole at each vertex. Those holes are where I will run the wires for the LEDs, but they also let me more or less ignore the thickness of the material, which would otherwise possibly make the corners look bad.

Light parts

Then I drilled holes in all the pieces. The holes in the faces are for LED and spike mounting. The ones in the tabs are for rivets that hold the shapes together.

Flat shapes

I bent the flat shapes in an improvised metal brake to get them 3-D, and then riveted them together to hold the shape.

Now in 3-D!

The finished shape seems to fit together pretty well.

The general idea

I added more holes for sheet metal screws. I also added a flat plastic platform inside, so that the electronics have something to rest on, and screwed the spikes to the outside. The spikes are intended to be ornaments for punk clothing, but they mount with screws, so you can stick them on anything you can drill a hole in.

Made of hate

The electronics are also mostly together. I just have to finish up the code, and then mount the control circuit inside, the LEDs outside, and add a power switch.

Seizuredome electronics

What is going on

I started this blog to keep a sort of running list of what projects I have going on and my progress on each of them. Instead of doing that, I’ve been working on the projects and ignoring the blog.

My main project right now is the Seizuredome. The “dome” part is an icosahedron made out of electrical conduit. Five of the faces of the icosahedron are left off, and it rests on the ground on that side, forming a sort of dome. I used the construction techniques from Desert Domes to build the frame, but the process is essentially flattening the ends of the pieces of pipe and drilling holes in them so they can be held together with bolts. There is a picture of the completed dome frame in a previous post. That frame will be covered with mylar “space blankets” to provide a reflective surface.

The “seizure” part of the dome is a little more complicated. If you close your eyes and look at a bright light, you can still sort-of see the light, as a red glow through your eyelids. If that light pulses in the 5-20Hz range, you would expect to see the blinking through your eyelids. Instead, most people end up seeing colorful patterns, like swirling fractals, tye-die designs, spiderwebs, and such. What happens is that the blinking signal is close enough to the patterns of electrical activity in the brain that it can drive the dominant frequencies of neural activity to synchronize with it, resulting in hallucinations and mildly altered states of consciousness. You can buy goggles with blinking lights in them, or make your own devices, which will allow one person to do this. I’m building a photic driver for multiple users.

The Seizuredome will have a bright red strobing light in its center. This light is made of 20 1-watt red LEDs mounted on the surface of an aluminum icosahedron. Each LED is driven by a constant-current driver, which is controlled by a TLC5940 LED driver chip. The TLC5940 chips are controlled by an Arduino. Power for the whole thing is supplied by a LM7805 supply with a beefy pass transistor. That light will be hung inside the reflective dome, illuminating the inside. Since the light is suspended inside a reflective dome, there will probably be no place inside the dome that isn’t strobing red, so users inside the dome will be able to see the psychedelic show by entering the dome and closing their eyes.

That still doesn’t really answer why I called it the Seizuredome, though. I turns out that some people are photosensitive epileptics, but don’t know it. Strobing lights of the frequencies most likely to cause seizures by interfering with neural electrical activity are rare, and don’t usually last long enough to trigger seizures. As a result, it’s possible for someone to grow up without ever seeing a blinking light that is intense enough for a long enough time to cause a seizure.

Until now.