Seven Visions of Biohacking, Biosensing, and Biomimicry

Biohacking Science
Seven Visions of Biohacking, Biosensing, and Biomimicry

BI-visitors-3There’s an old cyberpunk story where a character replaces more and more of his body with artificial parts in an effort to become faster, until the limit of his artificial body is how fast his brain can operate. Craving more speed, he augments himself by adding an AI computer to work in parallel with his brain. He gradually shifts more and more control over to the artificial brain. Finally, the AI decides his organic brain is an unnecessary weight, and abandons its life support braincase to go mad in isolation and sensory deprivation. He went too far.

It’s a classic theme in science fiction that can be seen as early as Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’. A man’s hubris brings destruction upon himself. Are we entering an age where those technologies, formerly found only in the imaginations of science fiction authors, now become possible for anyone to attempt? What can we do? How far should we go? These are questions we’re only beginning to explore.

If you’re part of the biohacking scene or simply want to learn what it’s all about, you absolutely have to check out these presentations and exhibits at World Maker Faire in New York next week. We have a quite a line up of presenters, including not a few Ph.D.’s.

Robot Bugs: Biomimicry in R&D

Dr. Ben Finio did doctorial work at Harvard studying microrobotics. His RoboBee project showed how studying animals in nature could lead to advances in robotics. Getting a robotic insect to fly “was an open-ended problem that no one had solved before,” he said in a TEDxYouth talk. He spoke about various bio-inspired robots that fly, crawled or ran like insects. He also talked about how robots are being made with soft materials and air-pump actuators to give them a touch soft enough to lift a raw egg. This opens the door to robots that can interact safely with humans without fear of injuring them. Dr. Finio will be presenting at 1:05-1:30pm on Saturday, Sept. 21.


Hacking the Un-Hackable: How We Can Make the Entire World Interactive

Dr. Ivan Poupyrev of Disney’s Interaction Group will present on Botanicus Interacticus, a new technology that turns any house plant into a touch controller. He’ll talk about using human bodies to transmit sound, creating touch screens on water, 3D-printed interactive eyes, and virtual objects that you can feel with your hands.

Dr. Poupyrev decided that he wanted to do research very early in life, probably because his father was a mathematician at a top research institutions in the USSR. He has never changed this direction. He was working at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory when he was contacted by Disney. Now he cooks up future technologies for Disney at their theme parks, resorts, and cruises.

This will be Dr. Poupyrev’s first time at Maker Faire. “This is my first experience and I do not know what to expect,” he says. “There is a very real, palpable  excitement whenever I hear and talk about Maker Faire and I would like to see it and understand what is this excitement all about.”

Dr. Poupyrev has been widely recognized as a creative innovator. Since Maker Faire is all about that, he should fit right in. Dr. Poupyrev will be presenting at 3:00pm on Saturday.

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Biosensing: the Y in DIY

Neuroscientist Dr. Sean Montgomery discuss the future of biosensing, where sophisticated electronics and state-of-the-art algorithms make it possible to identify emotions, monitor patient health, and measuring brain activity via EEG.

Though Dr. Montgomery holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, he considers himself a new media artist and engineer. His work on biosensing apparel (demonstrated in the video below) reveal a creative nature that fits in perfectly with Maker Faire. He will present at 4:00-4:30pm Saturday.

Neural Monitoring

Dr. Bill Casebeer will present ways in which citizen scientists and students can conduct useful neuroscience research and harness signals from the brain to control EEG-enabled devices, and learn how the brain works. He will be discussing and demonstrating various inexpensive projects that can monitor brain states.

Dr. Casebeer was an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and is currently a Program Manager at DARPA. He has written about how the cognitive constituents of our minds relate to our moral and ethical choices, and has presented on the neurobiology of virtue at the United Nations in New York. His presentation will take place Saturday at 4:30pm.

Brain Hacking

F1B4PWOGYVDHPWJ.LARGEThe human brain becomes more and more hackable. Neuroscientist Lee von Kraus will present on ways in which we can interface with the brain and augment it.

Dr. von Kraus is particularly interested in how our neural circuitry affects the way different people and different species think. “I’m interested in the extent to which neural circuits can be modified (either naturally or artificially) to bridge these differences,” he says. “There are many different mechanisms by which organisms can sense and respond to their environment. However neuronal networks stand out due to their ability to scale up and learn, allowing extremely complex thoughts and behaviors.”

How does the architecture of our body’s neural network dictate our thoughts and actions? How much can we influence the state of our own neural network, consciously or subconsciously? How much are we influenced by stimuli from our environment, and how much by our own internal processing?

Dr. von Kraus explains, “To the extent possible we choose where we hang out, and with whom, we decide what school we want to go to, etc. However, as technology and our understanding of the brain progresses, there are new, more direct, and sometimes more accessible ways in which one can either change one’s brain, modulate its ability to change itself, or modulate its ability to carry out existing functions.”

Dr. von Kraus will be presenting at 5:30pm on Saturday.

Mindrider and the Maker’s Brain

Catherine Cramer and Stephen Uzzo of the NY Hall of Science demonstrate Mindrider, an EEG-reading bike helmet that displays brain activity on a LED display. The data is geo-tagged so cyclists can correlate brain activity with geographical location. Cramer and Uzzo will test out the helmet on various makers throughout the fair.

Arlene Ducao from the MIT Media lab developed the prototype the Mindrider. She is a creative technologist with a background in computer science, the arts, and a touch of engineering. Much of her work is inspired by the natural sciences and the environment. Arlene and her business partner Ilias Koen are Co-Principals at The DuKode Studio in Brooklyn. “I’m really excited to develop [Mindrider] further into a public product,” says Arlene. “2013 marks the third time I’ll have presented at NYC Maker Faire. I always find them fun and engaging to all kinds of audiences, and my mind is always overflowing with ideas when I leave.”

Catch the Mindrider presentation and see what the team learned from test subjects during the faire. The presentation is on Sunday at 4:00pm.


Binomica Labs Biohacking Projects

Nonprofit think tank Binomica will exhibit a selection of their DIY Bio projects including a biological circuit created by slime molds. They also demonstrate how to build your own plasmid system that can be sent in for synthesis, and will be giving away samples of physarum slime molds.

Binomica was founded by Sung won Lim, one of the original co-founders of NYC’s biotech hackerspace, Genspace. Sung is no stranger to World Maker Faire. He has participated in every single New York faire since the very beginning, working with the BioBus at two previous faires.

If you are curious about biohacking, be sure to stop by Binomica’s area. Be sure to get there quickly because they have a special prize for the first five visitors each day.


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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

View more articles by Andrew Terranova

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

View more articles by John Baichtal


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