Our brains are dependent on the stimuli provided by our environment. Neuroplasticity is the notion that our neurons can be molded and re-purposed based on our experiences, even after critical stages of development. Currently, elite academic institutions such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalography (EEG) to research the brain’s ability to develop and change in response to stimuli. These studies have produced important findings with regards to a wide range of neurological diseases, traumatic brain injuries, and learning. In turn, these findings are being translated and applied to improved techniques in medicine, therapy, and education.
One of the main shortcomings of interfacing the brain is the ability to attain data outside of the confinement of a laboratory setting. There are very few studies done with a patient within the context of their normal environment, looking at how their home, what they eat, smell, see, hear, and touch affects the activity within their brain. Understandably, this is a very large challenge to address. If we are honored with receiving funds from the New Challenge competition, we intend to contribute to this pervasive challenge by addressing the issues of one of its sub communities, people suffering from attention disorders that affect their ability to focus and learn.
In 2007, the Center for Disease Control reported that 8.4% of American children aged 3-17 were at one point diagnosed with ADHD. Roughly 50% of children with attention disorders continue to experience issues as they progress into adulthood, and almost 60% of people diagnosed with these disorders are prescribed medication in an attempt to address the symptoms. It is vital that researchers continue to explore alternative and complimentary methods for solving attention-related disorders, and do not rely entirely on prescription medication to resolve the issue. Additionally, we believe that solutions to these problems have the potential to extend beyond the scope of individuals diagnosed with ADHD, and could be implemented by undiagnosed individuals trying to enhance their level of focus, learning ability, and productivity. It is this ubiquitous issue that we intend to examine.
To address this problem, my team of designers, engineers, and researchers has come together to found the Brain Design Laboratory (BDL). The goal of this community is to design, build, test, and rebuild non-invasive neurofeedback platforms that allow users to record environmental conditions over prolonged periods of time, while simultaneously tracking brain activity. In order to explore alternative techniques to addressing ADHD, we want to analyze the data that is recorded by these systems.
The systems will be comprised of a non-invasive headset that wirelessly sends brainwave data to a mobile phone and a central server, as well as a mobile application that tracks environmental stimuli both actively and passively. Passive stimuli will include variables such as location, noise, and movement, using GPS, audio inputs, and accelerometers. Actively recorded stimuli will include variables such as diet, activities, and moods, and will be input manually by the user. We believe this system will provide invaluable insight into how environmental stimuli correlate to variations in levels of attention. We will reach out to find user groups willing to test the platform. Eventually we hope to be able to provide real-time feedback to the user about how their environment is affecting their level of attention.
Currently, the potentials of commercial EEG have been used primarily for stationary recording and interaction, and do not serve as a good system for prolonged recording of brain activity. Some of the major shortcomings include comfort and attention to aesthetics. We believe that our diverse team of designers and engineers with experience in neuroscience, electrical engineering, as well as fashionable technology, can provide a new outlook on these problems, creating a system that is both wearable and functional. Lastly, we don’t want to just build technology; we strive to turn BDL into an open community of designers, researchers, patients, parents, and other organizations who are dealing with this problem.