Rebecca Linke

This is your brain on LED

July 19, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

When art, science and engineering come together, you sometimes end up with a 15-foot tall LED-lit brain.


A group called Mens Amplio, which is Latin for “expanding the mind,” is creating this project. So how does it work? Lets start with the sculpture.

The head surrounds the brain, both constructed out of steel. The steel requires a custom-made mandrel bender to properly follow the twists and turns of a human brain.

Inside the brain, when the technology starts working, that is where it gets really interesting. Inside the steel frame brain, the Mens Amplio team is building neuron branches out of Endlighten rods, a type of clear, light-diffusing acrylic LED light.

 

A person wears a NeuroSky MindWave EEG headset which reads that person’s brainwaves. The EEG communicates with a Raspberry Pi, which will be programmed with software written in Python, and which will in turn talk to the LEDs using a protocol called Open Pixel Control (OPC). The OPC client will send out LED color data packets to the LED strips over Serial Peripheral Interface Bus (SPI), an information transmission protocol that is enabled by default on the Linux distro Mens Amplio is running on their Raspberry Pis.

The LEDs will then light up and change color and pattern based on the EEG wearer's state of mind.  The color and patterns of the LEDs are meant to mimic the images of clinical brain scans.

What’s more, the brain will also produce real fire that is controlled directly by the Raspberry Pi, although the team is keeping that methodology under wraps. That will only happen, however, if the person wearing the NeuroSky is in a meditative state, which might be hard with throngs of enthusiastic lookers-on trying to distract him or her.

The project is partially funded by Burning Man, an annual event held in the Nevada desert where the brain will make its debut (and that Larry Paige has said he enjoys attending), but they have an Indiegogo campaign to raise the rest of the money they need. And a generous donation of $500 will land you your own desktop brain! The desktop brain is powered by an Arduino microcontroller since it will be smaller (because really, who has room for a 15-foot tall brain around the house) and therefore requires less computational power.

Sure, the Mens Amplio team, which is comprised of doctors, people who have worked in brain imaging, neurotechnology, computer programming and electronics and metal fabrication, is excited to built a 15-foot tall brain. Who wouldn't be? But what they are really looking forward to is bringing this project into local schools to get kids interested in art, science, math and electronics. Seeing a giant, colorful brain around Oakland, CA just got a little more common.