I wasn’t surprised at how loud my thoughts could be. After all, I have to listen to my own mind chatter all the time. In fact, I expected it to start out loud and was surprised when there were intervals of complete silence in the beginning. Apparently daydreaming doesn’t stimulate activity. So I tried thinking of phrases in French and German, and counting backwards from 100. That got it going. What am I talking about you ask? Last evening’s scientific demonstration, a collaborative effort of IMEC/Holst Centre’s Body Area Network team who developed a prototype ambulatory EEG sensory device and artist, Christoph De Boeck.
Staalhemel (steel sky) is an is an interactive installation of 80 steel segments suspended overhead in an open space. Tiny hammers tap rhythmic patterns on the steel plates, activated by the alpha and beta brainwaves detected by the EEG scanner. The intention of the artist was to create an acoustical representation of the electrical brain activities that govern the wearer’s being at that very moment. It provides an opportunity to “walk through a sheltered space that is also the space of your own mind.”
After trying out the walk myself, I watched others try. When the men in the group tried it out, there were more intervals of high activity followed by lulls vs. the women, who once activity started, it was sustained and got louder. I imagine that could explain a lot. I suggested to the artist that it might be a handy tool for couples counseling. I also asked the artist if he had ever tested it on a yoga practitioner. He said yes, and that when the yogi was in a meditative state, the alpha waves remained steady and calm.
Steve DeCollibus, of SPN, told me he was trying out different thought processes during his walk – counting, adding, thinking of words that begin with a certain letter. When he thought about what he needed to do to make his deadline that evening, the noise was deafening.
According to Lindsay Brown, researcher for Body Area Network, the device is used to track brain activity only, and doesn’t gauge emotion – yet. But the ramifications for the future of this technology are amazing. In addition to clinical diagnosis and monitoring of conditions like epilepsy, it has applications in elearning, gaming and more. Essentially, it could be used to determine learning patterns and modify learning programs according to learning style. Integrated into gaming applications, it can tell if you’re bored or interested, to keep you playing longer. Ultimately, it could be used to control things with our minds, for instance in the home and work environment, it can detect if you need to turn up the lights to reduce eyestrain, or adjust the temperature of the room.
This demonstration was just one of several projects that are part of IMEC’s Body Area Network program, an initiative whose goal is to develop a set of miniaturized sensors, worn comfortably on the body to track everything from heart rate, brainwaves, stress level, walking patterns, and even moods and mental state in an effort to develop less invasive early diagnosis and treatment for improved quality of life. Mindblowing concepts? Pretty much.