EEG Data Crystals

I’ve had the Neurosky Mindwave headset in a box for over a year and just dove into it, as part of my ongoing Data Crystals research at Autodesk. The device is the technology backbone behind the project: EEG AR with John Craig Freeman (still working on funding).

The headset fits comfortably. Its space age retro look aesthetically pleases except that I’d cover up the logo in a final art project. The gray arm rests on your forehead and reads your EEG levels, translating them into a several values. The most useful are “attention” and “meditation”, which are calculations derived from a few different brainwave patterns.

eeg_headestI’ve written custom software in Java, using the Processing libraries and ModelBuilder to generate 3D models in real-time from the headset. But after copious user-testing, I found out that the effective sample rate of the headset was 1 sample/second.* Ugh.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used the Neurosky set. In 2010, I developed art piece, which is a portable personality kit called “After Thought”. That piece, however, relied on slow activity and was more like a tarot card reading where the headset readings were secondary to the performance.

The general idea for the Data Crystals is to translate data into 3D prints. I’ve worked with data from the San Francisco’s Data Portal. However, the idea of generating realtime 3D models from biometric data is hard to resist.

This is one of my first crystals — just a small sample of 200 readings. The black jagged squares represents “attention” and the white cubes correspond to “meditation”.


Back to the sample rate…a real-time reading of 600 samples would take 10 minutes. Still, it’s great to be able to do real-time, so I imagine a dark room and a beanbag chair where you think about your day and then generate the prints.

Here’s what the software looks like. This is a video of my own EEG readings (recorded then replayed back at a faster rate).

And another view of the 3D print sample:


What I like about this 3D print is the mixing of the two digital materials, where the black triangles intersect with the white squares. I still have quite a bit of refinement work to do on this piece.

Now, the challenge is what kind of environment for a 10-minute “3D Recording Session”. Many colleagues immediately suggest sexual arousal and drugs, which is funny, but I want to avoid. One thing I learned at the Exploratorium was how to appeal to a wide audience, i.e. a more family-friendly one. This way, you can talk to anyone about the work you’re doing instead of a select audience.

Some thoughts: just after crossing the line in an extreme mountain bike race, right after waking up in the morning, drink a pot of coffee (our workplace drug-of-choice) or soaking in the hot tub!


* The website  advertises a “512Hz sampling rate – 1Hz eSense calculation rate.” Various blog posts indicate that the raw values often get repeated, meaning that the effective rate is super-slow.


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