Brainfingers Article 1


by Timothy A Carey –9-30-2009

 This is Timothy A Carey of DisabilityVoice.  I first learned about Brainfingers from a photo copy of a website printout someone gave me.  It was a year until I actually went to the website.  After all the article said that Brainfingers allows you to control your computer with brainwaves.  It sounded like Science fiction.  So it wasn’t a priority.  After I finally checked out website, I contacted the creator of the device.  His name Is Andrew Junker and he is from Yellow Springs Ohio.  We agreed that I should create a series of articles about my learning experiences with Brainfingers and he would help me with the training.  He also thought it was a good idea that I be a sounding board for his ever improving and remarkable Assistive Technology. Brainfingers main unit is actually called NIA Neural Impulse Actuator The basic NIA it sold by OCZ Technologies as augmentation for gamers. The NIA comes with a little decoder box, a headband, and basic software. With a software upgrade it becomes Brainfingers, which is a more sophisticated device suitable for Assistive Technology. For this project Andrew let me purchase the NIA and a better headband through him. I am also using the 30 day trial of the Brainfingers upgrade and he will keep extending it for this project. The basic unit with a better headband costs around $400. You can get the unit through the OCZ web site for around $100, but if you are going to use it for Assistive Technology the $400 is worth it. The better headband has better sensors and just having Andrew know about you as a person with a disability is a plus.

The headband comes with a special conductive gel for making a better connection with the forehead. Since I sweat more on my forehead, I decided to try relying on the electrical properties of the salt contained in sweat. Overall that strategy seemed to work ok and at least kept me from having to add the funky gel to my setup procedure.

The hardware has a problem with being connected to computers that are not properly grounded. There is no problem using it on a non-grounded computer running on battery. Any computer that doesn’t have the 3 prong electrical plug is not grounded. This can be bad for any computer whether it is connected to the NIA or not. They do provide a solution by sending along a grounding cable. You connect it to where your printer or video cable tightening screw would normally go into. Unfortunately Dell decided I don’t need to secure any of the cables in my 2007 laptop. The grounding wire will work touching any metal surface on the computer. So I very carefully put the screw on the grounding cable into the computer’s modem port. They will be providing a grounding port on the actual NIA unit soon. If you plan on purchasing this device and don’t have a properly grounded computer, I would recommend checking that this guarding feature has been added.

The NIA works by reading electrical signals given off by your facial muscles and some your brain waves. It currently reads 8 signals; it reads the signals given off by the movement of your facial muscles, it reads left and right eye glances separately and together, it reads 3 types of Alpha waves, and it reads 3 types of Beta waves.

When you first start using NIA, you will start on a calibration screen. There will be a red line and a green line. The green line is signals coming from you and it must be below the red line before you can calibrate the unit. My green line was all over the place and way above the red baseline. I learned that I have to get myself into a very relaxed state, relaxing every muscle in my body. This is almost a state of complete meditation and calm. Once I did this and calibrated the unit I didn’t seem to have any problem with the levels or staying calm enough.

The learning process is actually kind of fun, but it can be frustrating at times. What you have to remember is that controlling brain waves at will is not a normal process for people. Things will take time. The system has a screen where you can see a bar graph of 8 differently colored bars. These bars are called fingers and each bar represents a different reading in real time. It is really cool seeing what your actions and relaxation state are doing to the fingers.

The program provides various exercises for training. One of the exercises is a ping pong game. I did manage to beat the computer at the basic level of the game using facial muscle. But I am still trying at the more difficult level. I am also trying the game with the Alpha one brainwave reading, but it’s hard to play a game without getting excited when you are about to miss the ball. It is best to play the game without caring about winning. All you are trying to do is make your readings go up and down, which happens to correspond to the paddle coming up or down to the ball. Another exercise gives you 8 color coded balls. Each of the balls move in regards to one of the 8 readings. They are all lined up in a row moving up and down depending on the readings. As a white ball goes across the screen you are supposed to bring each of the balls into contact with the white ball. As each of the colored balls makes contact with the white ball it plays a musical note. If they all make contact, you will hear a song. After practice saying awhile you will start to see the Alpha and Beta waves move the way you want and you won’t even know how you are doing it.

Overall I am satisfied with my NIA / Brainfingers learning experience so far, but I have go through more training before I have adequate control of my computer. I have to learn how to make different readings do different tasks on the computer. This is only the first article in a series of articles I am writing. Please watch for more articles as I learn more about this wonderful system.