YOU can now hold your brain in the palm of your hand. For the first time, a scanner powered by a smartphone will let you monitor your neural signals on the go.
By hooking up a commercially available EEG headset to a Nokia N900 smartphone, Jakob Eg Larsen and colleagues at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby have created a completely portable system.
This is the first time a phone has provided the power for an EEG headset, which monitors the electrical activity of the brain, says Larsen. The headset would normally connect wirelessly to a USB receiver plugged into a PC.
Wearing the headset and booting up an accompanying app designed by the researchers creates a simplified 3D model of the brain that lights up as brainwaves are detected, and can be rotated by swiping the screen. The app can also connect to a remote server for more intensive number-crunching, and then display the results on the cellphone.
"Traditionally, in order to do these kind of EEG measurements you have big lab set-ups that are really expensive," says Larsen. "You have to bring people in, isolate them and give them specific tasks." The smartphone EEG would let researchers study people's brain signals in more natural environments such as at home or in the workplace. Teams can also use the smartphone's other features to conduct experiments such as displaying pictures or videos that elicit a specific brain response, or monitoring groups of people as they work together on a task.
The system might also assist people with conditions such as epilepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and addiction by cutting down on the number of hospital visits they need to make, in the same way that home-based heart monitors do.
"Our vision is for EEG to be a regular thing that you have at home," says Arkadiusz Stopczynski, who worked on the project with Larsen. "It's much better than going to the lab, sitting there for 1 hour of EEG and going home."
"The realisation of a real-time brain-mapping system on a cellphone is a nice task," says Gunther Krausz of G.Tec Medical Engineering, a firm based in Schiedlberg, Austria, which supplies EEG systems to researchers. But as a research tool, he says, the phone can't compare with dedicated medical devices. "You need sophisticated stimulation devices and data-processing", which cannot be done with the app alone.