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Wearable neuroheadsets: on mind-controlling our environment

Mind-controlled computing is a new field. So new, that in 2009, Emotiv Systems open-sourced their brainwave-reading headset to developers and researchers to help drive innovation. Musician Richard Warp responded to the challenge.

Warp is a composer, married to a neuroscientist, who believes in creating music with your mind. Using a neuroheadset (his is an Emotiv EPOC, but there are plenty of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) on the market these days for under $100), he built a generative music system that responds to the brain signal.

With Warp’s fairly simple setup, anyone can become an EEGJ (“electroencephalography jockey”). The headset detects electrical activity in the brain, explains Warp’s colleague neuroscientist and wearable-tech-designer Chung-Hay Luk, “so it can figure out your thoughts, how you’re moving your muscles, whether you’re winking smiling, a lot of different things.” Once the headset has read your brainwaves, they’re then transmitted wirelessly to the computer where interactive music software Max/MSP maps your emotions- excited, frustrated or meditative- to musical tracks.

It’s biofeedback that helps you “hear” your moods. Warp sees it as an “excuse to focus” and an easy entry point into meditation. “Just sitting in a room and saying ‘om’ is not going to work for everybody, but if they have an app that allows them to meditate for a half an hour everyday by creating Brian Eno-esque tracks I think that’s more compelling for some people.”

Warp, his wife Erica, and Luk have used the technology to create what they think a future club might look like. Their NeuroDisco is a mix of brain-controlled music and a mind-controlled light show. The EEGJ wears the neuroheadset to generate beats and those moods are then mapped onto a 7-foot giant neuron via an Arduino and 600 LED lights.

They see it as only a very rough approximation of what in the future will be a more embedded experience with invisible brainwave-readers (no longer headsets), integration with features like Google glass and other types of wearable tech.