Mental Note: An EEG musical instrument

John Baichtal

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

2246 Articles

By John Baichtal

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

2246 Articles

Hunter Scott, a student at Georgia Tech, discovered a serial out on a Star Wars Force Trainer EEG toy, so he decided to make it into a musical instrument. When activated, the electroencephalography-driven toy plays a variety of samples depending the readings from the alpha and beta brainwaves.

Mental Note is the name I gave to a project that I made for Yahoo HackU 2010. They come to Georgia Tech every year, and I thought it would be fun to compete. I was trying to come up with something, and I knew I wanted to do a hardware hack since I am not a CS major and a lot of the people who compete are like 3rd and 4th year CS majors (I was a 2nd year computer engineer). The competition was on Friday, and the Monday before, I started trying to come up with an idea. I remembered seeing the Star Wars Force Trainer when it came out and I really wanted to do something with it. Someone had done some work on reverse engineering the hardware and had found that the head piece used 3 contacts with the head to take an EEG. Then it sent the data wirelessly over a regular RF connection somewhere in the 2.4 GHz range. But most importantly, it turns out that there are header pins that were left in from testing and one of the pins gives a serial out! So it’s really easy to interface with. That means you can control anything with your mind. So I started thinking, what would be cool to control with your mind. I thought maybe you could control Google Earth, or maybe update Facebook and Twitter with your mood, or maybe control a simple flash game. But all of those seemed like they might be too hard to control precisely, and they just didn’t seem cool enough. So then I thought about playing certain songs based on your mood. If you felt happy, then play upbeat music, if you feel sad, play sad music. But I was afraid that once you started listening to a song, you would get stuck in that mood and wouldn’t change. And then I realized that it would be way cooler if you could create music. After some more thinking and talking over it with a friend, I came up with Mental Note.

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