Nick Steele
hacks things and practices open sourcery. Engineer.

MindWave Mobile

This was originally posted to Grand St. on March 18, 2013.

I originally got the second generation MindWave during my sophomore year of college in order to do two things: first, make pretty fractals with my brainwaves and second, prove the point that you don’t need to drop upwards of 200 dollars to collect meaningful neural feedback. I ended up doing both and here’s what happened.

Thought as Data
People very rarely consider that “thought” can be collected and measured. I think a lot of people assume an EEG is some sort of

mystical device, where if you think about a chair, it will do some heavy math, maybe run some special algorithms, and slowly scribble “chair” out onto the big dot matrix printer spool that all cognitive scientists use. Sadly this is not (yet) the case.

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The Mindwave Mobile

I had been working on a couple projects that incorporated high-end EEGs that used between 6 and 60 nodes to gather neural output, and my curriculum, focussed heavily that semester on sensation, perception, and neuroscience, left me with a deep interest in cognitive introspection. The combination of my interest in biofeedback and cognitive therapy was also coupled with the two projects I was working on, one with Yehuda Duenyas, a recent MFA grad who was working on The Ascent, an interesting take on interactive art incorporating biofeedback, and the other project with Dr. Marc Destefano who, for his PhD, worked on and successfully defended his theory that his “game” (which played a bit like asteroids to be honest) was a powerful tool for Air Force cadets to improve their flight simulation scores. Both were almost polar in purpose, but one thing was clear for me: biofeedback and cognitive tools like EEGs were heavily underutilized tools in the public domain.

Data via our brainwaves can give us useful averages of things like attention, calmness, concentration, fear, and that anyone with some basic knowhow can look at this EEG data and go “hey, I remember that, I remember what I was feeling when that happened. I felt relaxed, and look! My alpha waves were oscillating, man! I bet I could do that again!” And most times people can. Like a mobile phone spy muscle, people can learn to ‘flex’ their brain, and an EEG is perhaps the most efficient way of proving that you’re brain is actually doing those flexes.

Endless Possibilities
So when I first heard about the NeuroSky Mindwave I was excited, hesitant, but very excited. An EEG with a single node at 90 dollars, how good could it be? But my reluctance was overpowered by my imagination of the possibilities. In my free time during that semester I was working heavily spy phone app with Processing and Max MSP to generate audio from just about anything. A small processing script I wrote could pick up ports opening and closing on my android phone and send them to Max as sweet little pings and pongs, and if I moved through campus fast enough the output sounded like rain on a tin roof. Then I read about Robert Schneider’s experimental Theramin using a hacked up Mindflex, the mattel version of the

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mindwave, and knew I had to give it a shot,

although I also did read some fantastic reviews about the mindwave itself

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being the wary consumer I am.

Hacking with the MindWave
The Mindwave arrived two days after the start of my second semester and, since I was dual majoring in cognitive science and game design, I switched focus in my studies to the latter. The first day of Intro to Game Development I was hacking away in class on a script that parsed the Mindwave’s output to a csv file that was uploaded daily to a server back at my house (y’know, so I could see how I was feeling in numbers) when the professor mentioned that we could use any platform or method of input we felt like. So that

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was that. For the next half of the year I worked on this game where core mechanics were based around neural input, we even got some great data (people were able to use biofeedback to improve their scores) that I think showed that the mindwave was actually a fairly cover letter service uk powerful EEG, point proven. It also had some neat art elements that were all generated using your noggin.

And now the Mindwave Mobile is out, and I encourage you all to try it. There’s something very powerful about being able to have a fairly accurate representation and view of your brainwaves, like contemplating or quantifying one of your 5 senses. If you’re a developer, use it to make something beautiful. The possibilities are endless and can be completely new since the Mindwave Mobile now allows for bluetooth connection. If you’re a cognitive science fan or just interested in how your waves work, there’s a lot of apps provided by NeuroSky and many other indie devs to help feed your head.

To celebrate getting my hands on the Mindwave Mobile this week, I put together a tiny project using the Java programming language to illustrate the ease of getting data from the device. One of my original issues with the mindwave is that it is very difficult to get data from the mindwave in more than 3 formats, two of them being very difficult to get without plugins. So spy equipment for phone this program I made accepts some data from the headset either directly or using an opensource library and translates it into OSC data, a form of data that is used in most high end music software such as Max and Ableton Live. This is pretty handy, especially since there hasn’t been a piece of software I could find that does all this in a very easy to follow fashion. I hope you’ll check it out!

Final Thoughts
The Mindwave Mobile has myriad possibilities to the scientist, the developer, the artist, and anyone else interested in exploring the neural data in all its shapes and forms. Neurosky has made a fairly powerful EEG available for the average consumer and now with bluetooth capability I think we can expect to see a new wave of interesting and new uses for the device, and the best part is that they’ll probably all be free to download. The community most active so far in mindwave development has strong feelings about keeping their findings and code open source, as it really should be, because there’s this big void in public knowledge and knowhow. I also was fortunate enough to talk with some of the NeuroSky team last week and we seem to be on the same wavelength about keeping code for the Mindwave out there and available to everyone. There’s a lot of mystery behind what’s going on in your own brain since it doesn’t move, flex, or rattle. All we really have is the old adage “Cogito ergo sum” to prove that something is going on up there. But now, us laymen have a way to see what’s going our heads now without wearing a net of wires and sitting in a laboratory.

Come explore your head with us.


Check out my github repo for a neat processing/java project and some other files to get you on your way towards development. I’ll be updating it and hope that you decide to take my project in your own direction as well.

  • Ashley Almon

    How and where can I get your shader ‘art’ mind wave program? And how do I use mind wave (mobile) with live and max???