How can a brain be hacked? We (Daniel, Natalia, Sebastian and Silviu from MOBGEN) weren’t sure, but we came across a post from the Waag Society and quickly became curious about the possibilities. We wanted to apply science to our expertise within mobility to solve a problem and also try some of the impressive equipment provided by the hackathon.
The problem was… we didn’t know much about the brain, only that we all have one, so we were lucky enough to adopt Michael, a neuroscientist, into our team who helped us understand that our brains are constantly sending out signals which we could read if we were to “eavesdrop on a brain”. On the first day, we were super excited to know that we had the opportunity to use OpenBCI, Emotiv or the Muse. We were given a good overview of how art and science could connect with presentations from people who had made installations, events and projects using these systems. So the question was… what could we actually achieve in 1 and a half days? And of course, we came up with a lot of ideas such as, “What if you could use brainwaves to help someone meditate by making them aware of their brain status?”, or “What if you could assist people in institutions who experience various psychoses and administer their medication before they snap? We were still unsure of our direction until Saturday morning.
We sat down as a team and discussed the type of audience we wanted to target, what they might need, which technology we could use, what the value would be, and what kind of experience do we want to provide. While discussing our shared love of traveling and the feeling of independence, we realised that this is not possible for some people. There are conditions that do not allow you to drive by yourself, for example, narcolepsy, or epilepsy. Having found our direction, it was finally time to put some hacking into action and see what we could develop to solve that problem. Choosing the appropriate device to hack was not an easy task, as different devices measured different brain waves. Luckily we had Michael to help us on that, and after a quick consultation round, we knew that using an OpenBCI was the way to go.
Setting the OpenBCI was a bit of a struggle at the start. We had to make sure the readings were clear and we couldn’t move on until the signals were clean. Making sense of the signals was also a challenge, but with some help from the staff, we were able to get the OpenBCI up and running, connected to Daniel’s head with a clean signal! Then the real hacking began.
Our idea was named BAT (Brain AssistanT). It was able to detect epileptic and narcoleptic events. With the BAT OpenAPI, the user could connect to an ecosystem of apps and services that could integrate with BAT to offer new, customised experiences. BAT measured the following channels: Alpha Waves, Muscle Tension and Heart Rate. Research showed us that people who suffer from narcolepsy or epilepsy can cause fatal accidents whilst driving! Also, the penalties for people who suffer from these conditions are quite severe and differ per country (One seizure could ban the driver for 6 months in the NL, while other countries completely prohibit you to drive at all if you suffer from any of these conditions). If we really want to prevent these types of accidents, then we have to choose a car that has the technology to prevent the accidents before it can happen, such as a Tesla.
For this to work, the BAT OpenAPI should connect with the Tesla connected car interface by using our ‘BAT hat’ which is equipped with electrodes. This wearable device will send user-friendly data to the car’s interface while the user is driving. Because driving is the primary activity in the car, the UI must be simplified to keep the driver’s eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. The app does not demand any user interaction whilst driving, and the moment a seizure is detected, the Tesla would be alerted and automatically be switched to the autonomous driving control and guide the car towards a safe haven and then alert emergency response services.
So looking back at hackathon weekend, we created the following:
- OpenAPI to detect if someone is falling asleep,
- Demo app to indicate what the user will see,
- Animation to showcase the use case and the in-car experience
- A killer presentation to explain our concept
In the end, we were able to impress the jury enough for them to ask us “how much of this was already there when you started?” our answer was, of course “none of it”.
We received comments like “wow, it looks like you have a startup ready there” from other participants. While we didn’t win the first prize, we took 3rd place and had an awesome weekend of work that didn’t even feel like we were working!