#SciFund Challenge Round 3, Project: Telepathic Cyborg Robots!
Several years ago, I began working with parents of children with ADHD and Autism-spectrum disorders to determine if there were affordable alternatives for neurofeedback therapy that they could build for themselves. When I mentioned this project to teachers in my STEMulate Learning workshops, they asked if I could integrate the same system into the devices we were using because students would be even more interested in robotics and electronics if they could simply think and have the devices respond.
In our recent STEMulate Learning neurocomputing experiments using the Neurosky MindWave single-electrode EEG in combination with an Arduino microcontroller, students can control a 3D printed robot from Round 2 of the #SciFund Challenge or an electric model train by making it go faster or slower based on their level of focus – they can literally think about the device moving faster and have it respond to their thoughts. However, the students want to do more! It took less than 5 minutes before they were asking if they could control a robotic arm, navigate a robot through a maze, or pick up and drop other objects by thought alone. Unfortunately, the prototype equipment could only control a single signal.
To go beyond controls that only speed up/slow down, a multi-channel EEG headset is needed so that their thoughts can provide multiple signals for the computer to interpret as different movements. After discussion with other educators, one alternative was both educationally designed to be adapted for research and also within the price range of a crowdfunding project: the Emotiv EPOC provides a 14-channel headset with a research/educational option available. The Educational Edition provides the software and hardware to educational institutions for $2,500. This project would provide everything needed to link a student to a remote robot of their own design, creating a cyborg connection to remotely pilot the robot by their thoughts.
The technology can be used in many other ways as well. The child shown above is taking part in ThinkerThing’s Monster Dreamer experiments, using an Emotiv neurofeedback headset well before he could type commands to a computer, iteratively modifying a virtual monster to meet the child’s personal preferences. As an example from STEMulate Learning, one of our teachers wants to link the Emotiv to a mobile GPS monitor so that we can create a map of the school reflecting the emotional and intellectual levels of stimulation levels as students move through their regular school day. By mapping this information from a range of student participants, we can identify venues that support student engagement and learning or others that may need modifications to improve the educational setting itself.
During the 3rd Round of the #SciFund Challenge, our supporters will be quite literally providing a connection between the thoughts and dreams of students and their robots, devices and learning environment itself! All research findings, software applications and designs will be shared openly so that any teacher, parent or student can take advantage of our studies and the discoveries made possible through our supporter’s generosity.