Okay, I need you to suspend your cynicism and disbelief for just a minute when you read my next sentence. Okay, ready?1 I’ve been sent a couple of devices and an app called MindRDR which enables me to take photos using the power of my brain, and once taken I can share those photographs to Twitter using only my thoughts. Just. My. Brain.
The Story Begins
Stuart, how did you come to be testing this mind reading technological wizardry I hear you ask? Well, I was sleepily browsing the BBC News website one morning when I read the following headline out of the corner of my eye: Google Glass hack allows brainwave control. Now, I have to take quite a lot of strong painkillers so I clearly thought I’d mis-read the headline. Because mind reading, seriously?!
But no, a company called This Place had developed a Google Glass app called MindRDR, which when connected to the Neurosky MindWave Mobile EEG headset via Bluetooth meant the headline was entirely correct. With this amazing combination it was now possible for somebody to take a picture and share it on Twitter without moving a muscle. Before the article even mentioned quadriplegics or even disability in general, I was floored by the possibilities this afforded people with disabilities like mine. I was so excited - and fully awake now - that I fired off a rambling email to This Place explaining that I was quadriplegic and what I thought this setup would enable me to do.
If you’re able bodied simply whipping your phone out of your pocket and taking a picture of something interesting is very easy, but if you’re quadriplegic all of your photographs are mediated through third parties. This means you never quite get the picture you wanted, what you get instead is what your Designated Pair of Hands™ interpreted your instructions to be which is, and never can be the picture you meant to take. Also, even before I was completely quadriplegic I was left-handed, and good luck finding a decent left-handed camera out there!
If I’m honest, I sent the email more in hope than expectation of a positive response which made it even more wonderful when Dusan - the CEO of This Place - returned my email saying that he would like to work with me. My partner and mother came running in from the kitchen when I first read his email because I literally shouted out loud in excitement2, Dusan said that he would like to talk to me about sending me some hardware and seeing how I got on with it. Stuart’s jaw hits the floor
The First Photograph
So, on 26 September the postman arrived with a lovely box[^zoe] containing a pair of Google Glass and the Neurosky MindWave Mobile EEG headset. After a little configuration help from Russell at This Place, I was able to do something that I thought totally impossible. At 5:10 PM I took a photograph of my new back garden, which made it the first photograph in over a decade that I’ve been able to take independently. In fact, because of the lack of left-handed cameras that’s probably the first photograph I’ve ever taken that actually captured the image I wanted! It sounds like hyperbole sure, but it’s absolutely true. Here it is then, the proof is in the Tweeting and all that:
This photograph was taken using just the voice recognition capabilities3 of Google Glass, there’s a touchpad on the right hand arm of Glass but for obvious reasons that’s unavailable to me. But that doesn’t stop me using a significant portion of the device’s functions, including the most important part which is recording my world and being able to share it with my friends and family. Truly amazing.
And Then There Was Mind Reading
Okay okay, I know the rules of the Internet as well as anyone. Pics or it didn’t happen, right? This picture was taken using my brainwaves, the Neurosky MindWave Mobile EEG headset, Google Glass and the amazing MindRDR app:
I know, I know, I should stop this blogging robotics nonsense and go and be a professional photographer! But alas, I’ve only got one pair of hands.4
How does it work?
Magic, clearly. Or you know, if you prefer a more accurate explanation, this is from the This Place website:
“MindRDR is a new application which connects Google Glass and Neurosky EEG biosensor, allowing users to take photos and share them on Twitter and Facebook using brainwaves to navigate the user interface.”
The way this worked for me in practice was to go through the following steps:
- Tilt my head up in the 30° and bring it back down to level to activate Glass
- In order I say “okay glass” followed by “Mind reader”
- This brings up the Glass viewfinder which shows me what’s directly ahead of me overlaid with the MindRDR UI
- The UI has the word “Cancel” at the bottom of the viewfinder and the words “Take Photo” at the top, in between there’s a movable horizontal line which has to reach the top of the viewfinder before a picture is taken
- The Neurosky MindWave Mobile headset measures your attention and the more attentive you are to your task, the closer the line gets to the top of the screen and then eventually success!
Like I said, magic. To actually take a photograph I eventually settled upon concentrating on the words “Take Photograph” and taking slow deep breaths, and that seemed to do the job for me. I also use the same strategy to post the photographs to Twitter. No idea if that’s the prescribed way to do it, but that’s what works for me! Now I’m OBVIOUSLY missing out a metric bum load of scientific, technological and design information here and that’s because the companies involved do a much better job of explaining these things than I do! Seriously.
One Happy Bunny!
Thanks to a new wheelchair and a brilliant fully accessible house I’m able to access the Outside World, and not only that but I’m able to share these experiences with my friends, family and whoever else subscribes to my Twitter feed! These devices have the potential to revolutionise the lives of those of us with profound disabilities, they really do. Imagine if you were unable to speak or move your body at all but still had all of your cognitive abilities, you would be effectively cut off from the world without any free expression whatsoever.
Companies like these, and the people that work at them are going to give voice to people like me and allow us to express ourselves that would be utterly impossible otherwise. Thanks guys!