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Brainwaves: From Cockroaches To Burning Man

posted Jul 30, 2013, 12:35 PM by Ellen Pearlman


 A sketch of a cockroach leg and its neuron that will receive an electrical stimulus


The arc of a cockroach leg stimulated by transmuted brainwave

Brian Salt, the founder of ThinkerThing used an Emotiv cap to get electrical signals from his brain into the severed leg of a cockroach. He converted his brainwaves into sound waveforms. Certain frequencies of those waveforms were piped into the end of a cockroach leg to be picked up by the axion of a neuron. It has to be the right frequency of the ping, or else the leg does not dance. Below he is moving the leg live time  with his brainwaves until it hits the little piece of paper that says “Yes."


Yes, I can move the leg!

The idea is to create software that can interface between the brain and the computer, and eventually work with prosthetic devices. This could also work with games, art hacks, and of course, sex toys. Artists could have a field day with these types of devices, making all sorts of interactive environments yet to be imagined.

Burning Man has the jump on brainwaves for this year’s edition. They have the  Mens Amplio project (Latin for “expanding the mind"), a collaboration between artists and brain imaging types. Their goal is to build a 15-foot high interactive sculpture of bent steel tubing that resembles a head with a brain controlled by participants brainwaves. 


Model of Brain interactive sculpture

It will have lights and flames that change color and patterns as one person seated to control the changes according to their state of mind. This is a prototype of the kind of visuals they want to use to highlight the branching structure of the “neurons."

imagePrototype of LED lighting design to highlight brain activity

They are actually building it, and here is what the prototype looks like in the fabrication shop.


Fabricated LED neurons

In just the space of a few months, brain hacks have moved from cockroach legs to Burning Man - is this the dawn of a new era?