Whether it's studying the potential for head impact injuries among young football players or adult soldiers, an intriguing area of research that's gaining buzz is the brain.
"There's a lot of interest in one of the most fascinating objects in the universe," said William Casebeer, a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Part of the Defense Department, DARPA is collaborating with several tech-focused small businesses to create a $30 brain-recording device within the next year.
Imagine small sensors, tucked inside a baseball hat or helmet, which would record electrical activity along your scalp. Your brain wave data then would be collected by mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, so any head impacts could be analyzed on the spot for any serious injuries.
While a brain recording device sounds creepy and Star Trek-like, the potential applications of such low-cost, mobile technology are mind bending—and real.
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Affordable brain-recording units have wide-reaching applications for high-impact sports, the military and hands-on science education in classrooms. The technology could also help gamers tackle their holy grail—hands-free, mind-controlled video games. Envision moving your personal avatar on a screen by simply thinking about it.
In scientific terms, the brain-recording unit is called an electroencephalograph—or a EEG device for short. Medical-grade EEG systems costing thousands of dollars have been around for years. Portable EEG units in the $500 range also are available.
But a more affordable EEG device would put the technology in the hands of more students and hobbyists. The development could unlock tinkering and innovation for more amateurs, sometimes called citizen scientists.
"A low-cost EEG system can be part of a laboratory experiment that a 15-year-old might be able to do," said Erik Handy, principal scientist at SI2 Technologies. The small business—based in North Billerica, Mass., 25 miles outside Boston—is among four companies that have received federal DARPA funding to create complementary solutions.