Welcome to OpenBCI

Joel and Conor, the co-founders of OpenBCI, gave me the opportunity to spend a few weeks in the OpenBCI HQ with plenty of liberty to use whatever that is in their lab located in Brooklyn, New York City. Once I knew, as I asked to myself “Irene, for the first time in your life you have the opportunity to use an EEG headset and do with it whatever you want. So, the question here is: what do you wanna do with it?”.

What is OpenBCI?

OpenBCI is a low-cost, programmable, open-source EEG platform that gives anybody with a computer access to their brainwaves. Their vision is to realize the potential of the open-source movement to accelerate innovation in brain science through collaborative hardware and software development. Behind the many lines of code and circuit diagrams, OpenBCI has a growing community of scientists, engineers, designers, makers, and a whole bunch of other people who are interested in furthering our understanding of the brain. They feel that the biggest challenges in understanding what makes us who they are cannot be solved by a company, an institution, or even an entire field of science. Rather, they believe these discoveries will be made through an open forum of shared knowledge and concerted effort by people from many different disciplines.

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Figure 1. BCI applications are infinite, but the most important right now are related to art, design, medical research, video games, and robotics.

The co-founders started the project via Kickstarter by presenting the OpenBCI Headset Kit to the World in this video. By donating to this Kickstarter investors supported their efforts to make the existing OpenBCI hardware ready for mass production and available to the general public. Also, they joined the OpenBCI community where people of all ages, locations, and backgrounds can contribute to unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.

Hardware

OpenBCI 3D-Printable Headset

Because the founders wanted OpenBCI to be beneficial for researchers as well as novice brain hackers, they made sure their design implemented the International 10-20 system – the internationally recognized method for placing electrodes on the human scalp in the context of EEG. They wanted the design to support electrode placement anywhere on the 10-20 diagram, but at the same time, not be bulky and uncomfortable as a result of external components. Because of this, they designed a hierarchical system of snap-in pieces, allowing for a comfortable, personalized headset design.

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Figure 2. The Ultracortex Mark III “Nova”  and “Supernova” nodes positions accordingly to the 10-20 system locations.

The Ultracortex is an open-source, 3D-printable headset intended to work with the OpenBCI system. It is capable of recording research-grade brain activity (EEG), muscle activity (EMG), and heart activity (ECG) by sampling up to 16 channels of EEG from up to 21 different 10-20 system locations. The Ultracortex Mark III “Supernova” is the latest working version of the OpenBCI headset. You can find all of the 3D files, links to hardware, and an assembly on their Github repo. They designed it for maximum adjustability and ease of use. In their design thinking, they prioritized the use of dry electrodes (pictured in the images above). Using dry sensors significantly reduces the time needed for setup (no more sticky paste!) and makes the overall experience of wearing the headset much more pleasant.

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Figure 3. Ultracortex Mark III from OpenBCI.

Electrodes

The next important part of our OpenBCI system is the electrode sensors. There are two main types: Passive and Active. The OpenBCI board works with both types of electrodes. If you have your own, you can support us at the OpenBCI Board reward level. If you don’t have any wires lying around, support us at OpenBCI Board w/ Electrode Kit level, we will also send you 10 passive electrodes, conductive paste, and all you need to get started reading your brain waves right out of the box!

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Figure 4. Electrodes used by OpenBCI.

OpenBCI 32bit Board

OpenBCI is built around Texas Instrument’s ADS1299 IC. The ADS1299 is an 8-channel, low-noise, 24-bit analog-to-digital converter designed specifically for measuring teeny-tiny EEG signals. It has lots of bells and whistles, like the ability to generate internal signals for testing and calibration, as well as EEG-specific functions like a lead-off detection, to ensure that the electrodes are making good contact with the subject. It has a programmable Bias signal (DRL) and a very flexible input multiplexer. If you dork out on hardware, like we do, you’ll want to take a look at the datasheet. Because this data sheet can be pretty scary for people that don’t have a background in electrical engineering, we made the OpenBCI board and code libraries so that communicating with and controlling the ADS1299 chip is easy.

The OpenBCI Board comes with an onboard re-programmable microcontroller. All backers that select a reward that includes an OpenBCI Board will get to choose between the 8-bit ATmega328 core made by Atmel (with Arduino bootloader) and a 32-bit PIC core made by Microchip (with chipKIT bootloader).  We will send out a survey at the end of the campaign to make sure you receive the microcontroller that works best for your needs. And we have broken out all of the pins so you can blink lights or move motors just like with Arduino or ChipKIT, except now you can do it with your brainwaves! Version 3 of the OpenBCI board will use Bluetooth low energy (BTLE) for data transmission and programming of the onboard microcontroller. Your safety is super important to us. That’s why we are using a wireless connection to transmit your brain data and the necessary code to and from the OpenBCI board.

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Figure 5. OpenBCI 32bit Board. From OpenBCI page.

 

R&D Kit (16-channel) — 32bit, Daisy, & Accessories.

This comprehensive all-in-one kit contains everything you need to get up and running with a 16-channel, OpenBCI biosensing suite.

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Figure 6. Daisy module from the OpenBCI page.

The OpenBCI 32bit Board and OpenBCI Daisy Module (which plugs into the OpenBCI 32bit Board) can be used to sample brain activity (EEG), muscle activity (EMG), and heart activity (EKG). The system communicates wirelessly to a computer via the OpenBCI programmable USB dongle, which is based on the RFDuino radio module.

 

tDCS Shield (for Direct Current Neurostimulation)

tDCS is a type of neurostimulation in which a low amperage direct current is passed through the scalp from a positively charged electrode (anode) to a negatively charged electrode (cathode). Some research has claimed that tDCS can increase cognitive performance and assist in the treatment of cognitive disorders such as depression and ADHD. Other studies have reported that there is no statistically conclusive evidence that tDCS has any net cognitive effect. Despite the effects of tDCS being critically debated, it is widely accepted that tDCS—when adhering to safety protocols and done in a controlled manner—is a safe method of brain stimulation.

Software

OpenBCI GUI

In addition to the OpenBCI hardware, we have been working very hard to build template computer programs that visualize and process your brainwaves to make the raw EEG data meaningful. We have code examples built in Arduino, ChipKITProcessing, Python, andopenFramworks. Also, we have no intention of reinventing the wheel, so we are actively working to make the hardware data accessible to all commonly used open-source EEG signal processing applications, such as BrainBay, OpenVibe, and more. Because you have direct access to the data on the hardware side, making it portable to any existing EEG software is as easy as structuring the way the data is formatted and related. The image below is a screenshot of our basic OpenBCI Brainwave Visualizer demonstrating 8 channels of raw EEG over a period of 5 seconds and a fast-Fourier transform (FFT) plot of the data. This code is available on ourGithub and can be easily expanded upon.

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Figure 7. OpenBCI GUI based on Processing.

In the OpenBCI Brainwave Visualizer above, the graphic at the top left shows the electrode placement positions for the experiment. The color intensity of each node indicates the EEG wave amplitude at that region of the scalp. On the right is a graph of the raw EEG data from all 8 channels over time in pretty colors. You can see, at the 4-second mark, a signal artifact in channels 1 & 2 from when our test subject closed her eyes. The graph in the lower left is an FFT plot, which shows the dominant frequencies in the data stream.

The screenshot was captured about 4 seconds after our test subject closed her eyes. There is a high amplitude waveform seen clearly in channels 5-8, which are placed on the back of the scalp. Notice a spike in the FFT graph at about 10-12Hz. This shows a predominance of alpha waves in the occipital region of the brain, which is what one would expect to see when the subject’s eyes are closed, and the visual cortex has nothing to do. Whether you want to do neural therapy to improve your attention or productivity, control video games with your motor cortex, or monitor the disco lights at your next house party based on your mood, it’s the software algorithms and signal processing that make it work. OpenBCI is a community of scientists, engineers, and users coming together to learn and share code and experiences. We hope to make all of these wild ideas become a reality!

What makes OpenBCI different?

Research-grade EEG equipment is known to be very cumbersome and very expensive. As hardware has become smaller and cheaper, there are more portable products available that will read your brainwaves and tell you something about your mental state. Today, the leading commercial brain-computer interface companies distribute fixed devices with limited or closed access to the algorithms that translate raw EEG signals into meaningful data. These devices are powerful and efficient for application development but not ideal for R&D requiring adjustable hardware setups and direct control over the signal processing techniques. The hardware and software behind OpenBCI are totally transparent; there are no black box algorithms or proprietary hardware designs! Not only is it fully accessible, but it is powered by an open-source community of hardware and software builders, making it easy to approach for creators of any skill level and ideal for researchers who modify their system design to suit a particular study. The OpenBCI platform is intended to serve as a flexible tool in the rapidly growing field of brain-computer interfacing.Your donations will allow us to leverage large-scale production and they will support the OpenBCI team to grow and work with the community that you will be helping to found. When you support us at one of the pre-order levels, you will receive your OpenBCI hardware in the Spring of 2014, and then our collective efforts to accelerate brain science and research will really kick off! Whether you’re a scientist, researcher, hacker, maker, student… your participation will add to the growing pool of available code, implementation tutorials, and user experience. Then we will all be crowd-sourcing brain research! How cool is that!?

The OpenBCI Community

The community developed around OpenBCI is getting bigger and bigger every day. People from around the World can join it for free and be part of the OpenBCI family. Once you are a community member, you are welcome to write posts related to BCI, EEG, OpenBCI, and so on. Also, you can

The OpenBCI Forum

Either you are a member of the community or not, you have free access to the forum. In there, you can find different queries of people and discussions organized into various categories, such as Hardware, Software, Headwear, Research, Electrodes, Other Platforms, Opportunities, and General Discussion. So, in case you found a rock wall while making your headset, or you don not understand OpenBCI EEG datasets, you can write a post in the forum, and one of the members of the community page will answer you ASAP.

References

For more technical specifications, please go to the following OpenBCI pages.

Webpages

  • OpenBCI home page
  • Ultracortex (Mark IV) EEG Headset Kit page
  • R&D Kit (16-channel) — 32bit, Daisy, & Accessories page
  • tDCS Shield (for Direct Current Neurostimulation) page
  • OpenBCI Kickstarter Campaign page