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It seems there is no end to the number of potential uses for a cell phone, as developers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) recently proved. The new buzz in smartphone technology this month is a portable EEG system, created by the school’s Cognitive Systems Section.
It fits within the user’s palm, and requires only a Nokia N900 and Emotiv EEG headset, both of which are commercially available. This will allow EEG readings be taken from just about anywhere you can take a cell phone. But what does this new technology do, exactly?
EEG stands for ‘electroencephalogram’ (say that three-times fast), which is the measurement of an electrical current that runs along the scalp, and is caused by the charge of neurons in the brain. Different frequency ranges emitted are associated with different states of brain functionality.
Part of the purpose of the electroencephalogram is to find connections between say, a seizure, and the focus in the brain that caused the seizure-inducing activity. The EEG technology is primarily used to diagnose medical issues with a neurological base, such as epilepsy, or encephalopathy (global brain dysfunction caused by a variety of illnesses).
The Nokia EEG program is surprisingly comprehensible. Whereas before all data had to be received on a PC computer, this human brain-scanner is conveniently pocket-sized, perfect for scaring fellow riders on the subway. A patient merely need put on the headset, start the app, and live activity data is collected from points of contact.
Data is then passed on to a reconstruction module. In no time at all, an image of your brain is displayed on the screen in real-time, 3D modeling. As brainwaves are detected, the model lights up and information is sent to a remote server to be further analyzed.
However, researchers are quick to add that the smartphone program cannot replace in-depth readings provided by older EEG systems. The portability of this new device is instead aimed at helping to cut down on the number of hours that patients with chronic medical issues, such as epilepsy, have to spend in a hospital.
The ease of use and lack of strangeness usually experienced by subjects of an EEG scan may also help create a more natural setting for psychological experiments. A few more nifty things this program is capable of includes a touchscreen ability to rotate the brain image, and fingertip access to photos and videos to make the brain more active.
So far, the smartphone EEG reader seems to have evoked an overall positive response from the public, with tech enthusiasts merely happy that the app has nothing to do with social media. Photographs of the developers at DTU show the team at a conference, each man with a series of electrodes stuck to his scalp. They look undeniably bizarre, but also quite satisfied, as well they should be.