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Makers Kimmo & Tero Karvinen, authors of Make: Arduino Bots and Gadgets, brought a very interesting project along with them to Maker Faire: Bay Area last year: an Arduino robot you control with your mind! The robot was a huge success and had a lot of people asking, “How do I build one?” Fortunately, Kimmo & Tero teamed up with Maker Press to bring you their latest book, Make a Mind-Controlled Arduino Robot (now available in the Maker Shed), so you can build one of your own. Mary Rotman, Publicist at O’Reilly Media, recently caught up with Kimmo & Tero for a quick Q&A.

Have you always been “makers”?
We’ve always been interested in tinkering, but with Arduino (and it’s predecessors like the Basic Stamp,) making things is faster. With Arduino, we can concentrate on what we want to make. We can build the first prototype without spending a lot of time with datasheets and waiting for components.

How did you come up with the idea to create a mind-controlled Arduino robot?
We needed a gimmick for Maker Faire Bay Area 2011. Some of Tero’s students played with cheap EEG devices at Haaga-Helia (www.haaga-helia.fi). One of Kimmo’s friends at work, Valtokari Ville (http://www.zeroshore.com/), had a suitable EEG device. Kimmo and Ville made the first prototype to try out how would Mindwave work with an Arduino robot. It proved to be a viable concept so we polished it into a Faire-worthy device. At the Faire, people were quite amazed to see they could control the speed of the robot with their mind.

What do the readers need in order to build their own? (besides the book, of course!)
A NeuroSky EEG headband ($100 USD) and Arduino ($30 USD) are the most important components.  A strong lithium battery powers the bot and two servos turn the wheels.  The rest of the supplies are support components, like screws, plastic, wire, resistors, and LEDs.

How has this project changed the way you interact with Arduino, or how has it affected your future projects?
Now that the price of EEG devices have come down from $10,000 to $100, we will definitely play more with our brains. We have a lot of ideas for mind controlled Arduino projects. Some of those will likely see the light of day as soon as we have some free time. For example, we found a really nice way to connect external devices, like NeuroSky. Usually, converting the voltage difference uses a special circuit–a circuit that’s not easy to find in Finland. But it’s also possible to convert level with just two resistors.

What did you learn from your experience at Maker Faire Bay Area 2011?
It was amazing to see how many young hackers there were. Also, the range of stuff that people are building in their garages is overwhelming.  It was a surprise that professional embedded developers like to play with Arduino. Even though they could just do serious work projects, they want to do experimental rapid prototyping, too. We highly recommend that everyone who’s interested in building things would visit the Faire.

How do you think projects like this will change the future of the Make community?
This is the tomorrow of yesterday. Sci-fi devices are getting commonplace and cheap: EEG, 3D printing, biohacking… More makers playing with these technologies will mean interesting projects and innovations in the days to come.

Be sure to watch for other great Maker Press books in the near future. There are a lot of exciting titles in the pipeline!

Michael Castor

I am the Evangelist for the Maker Shed. It seems that there is no limit to my making interests. I’m a tinkerer at heart and have a passion for solving problems and figuring out how things work. When not working for Make I can be found falling off my unicycle, running in adverse weather conditions, skiing down the nearest hill, restoring vintage motorcycles, or working on my car.


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