Technology with attitude

Brainihack: an All About BCI hackathon held at Google Tel Aviv Campus

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Last weekend 150 like-minded hackers gathered on Google’s Tel Aviv campus to attend Brainihack, a two-day hackathon organized as part of the BrainTech Israel 2013 conference, entirely focusing on commercial brain-computer interfaces. The participants ranged from professional developers and designers to artists and neuroscientists, who produced a wide range of exceptional projects.

A hackathon, broadly speaking, is an event where people gather (often in teams) to imagine, design, and create some project within a prearranged time limit. In the case of Brainihack, all of the projects were apps or programs that used a commercial BCI, and the time limit was from friday morning to saturday night, with the winning teams announced on sunday.

Some of the projects were fresh iterations of ideas attempted by others in the past (although never in such a short time period, as far as we know) such as a BCI operated wheelchair, or a system that plays music to compliment a person’s current mood. There was no shortage of innovative ideas: offerings like MindTube, which rated youtube videos based on the viewers brainwaves, and BMoment, designed to record the exciting parts of a user’s day when an EEG detected they were visually stimulated. The full listing of finalized projects – along with those proposed that didn’t quite make the cut  – can be found here.

Event organizer Hamutal Meridor spoke to Neurogadget about what made Brainihack so amazing: “the brilliant participants are the ones who made it what it was … We had around 150 folks – developers, neuroscientists, makers / hardware folks, designers, doctors (including a neurosurgeon), artists – all worked together Friday morning till Saturday eve and created 15 amazing projects.”

Brainihack 2013

Hackathons can be entirely unstructured, with the only motivation to work being competition between teams and enthusiasm for the project itself. Sometimes though, it helps to have a little incentive to get things done. Brainihack awarded prizes to the top three teams, as evaluated by five judges, including Dr. Rafi Gidron, Chairman of Israel Brain Technologies, and Ariel Garten, CEO of InteraXon.

All three finalists got an InteraXon Muse, as well as free entrance to the BrainTech Israel 2013 conference and a stage to present their project at the conference. First place also received an Enobio headset from Starlab/Neuroelectrics.

The 3 winning teams:

  1. Miyagi Learning Enhancer – A remarkable feat, especially given the time limit, Miyagi is a system that sits on a user’s browser, and  visualizes your level of attention as you study while wearing a BCI. If your level of attention drops below a certain minimum, Miyagi will open study-related content in video format, such as a  Coursera video. Many students would love to get their hands on a system like this, so it wouldn’t surprise us at all to see a more consumer oriented version being developed in the future.
  2. Mind your poem – This project is very much an art piece, a good demonstration that inventive use of BCI’s in that domain. The project uses your brainwaves to tag words that are pulled together into a poem, which is then printed.
  3. Tifsuni – Have you ever played the hand-slap game? Have you ever been dominated at the hand-slapping game, losing again and again to one of your friends? If so, Tifsuni is the project for you! This fun application detects when one player is about to go for a slap, and lets out an audible warning so the other can avoid getting hit. Check out the video of it’s development process (and some of the flavor of Brainihack in general) below:

The importance of hackathons for nascent consumer BCI market

Quite apart from the projects themselves, events like Brainihack benefit the industry in other ways. Hackathons promote a unique environment for people with wildly differing skills and backgrounds to mingle and network, united by a common interest in neurotechnology.

They also help encourage an environment of open source access to BCI software in general, encouraging more hackers to start tinkering and make even better applications. Some of them might even make it to next Brainihack!

“I believe above all what was amazing about this event was we started a community of brilliant people from diverse fields, all interested in brain tech. There definitely is going to be another one – everyone’s asking for it.” said Hamutal Meridor.

We at Neurogadget are definitely looking forward to it.

The official brainihack.org site has plenty of more details about the event, place, agenda, judges panel etc.

Some photos taken at Brainihack 2013:

Brainihack 2013

Brainihack 2013

Brainihack 2013