There is nothing good about being diagnosed with something like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease).
It's a terrible disease in which the brain looses control of the body's muscles.
There are brain-computer interface devices that allow someone with ALS to move a computer cursor with their minds, giving them the ability to communicate. Ranging in price from $3,000 to $30,000, they aren't cheap though.
"They're all closed source, they're all proprietary," said Joel Murphy.
That doesn't sit well with Murphy or his partner Conor Russomanno, so the two have developed their own open source brain-computer interface system.
"We want to lower the barrier of entry for brain-computer interfacing enthusiasts," Russomanno said.
Now granted, their system doesn't have the complex software to handle that sort of application yet, but the two anticipate a $300 price tag and the open source nature of the project will inspire the necessary innovation.
"Probably within the first four to six months, we are going to have numerous people working on these sorts of problems," Murphy said.
The two have already reached their Kickstarter funding goal, but there are still a few days left to get in on the ground floor of this thing. The two have raised over $138,000 from 699 backers on a goal of $100,000.
The device includes a bluetooth enabled electroencephalogram (EEG) system for makers with an arduino on board and is fully programmable.
It also comes with a headset that allows the user to place electrodes on different areas of the head because, as Murphy puts it, "the back of your head is where your occipital lobe is for visual data, the front of the brain is where the higher thinking is done … different parts of your head are associated with different parts of the brain, so if you want to be able to study specific parts of the brain, you have to be able to move the electrodes around."
The team is developing a web-based design platform to create customizable headsets that will solve these problems. They are currently still developing the headset electrodes, but the board is done and will be shipped with an electrode starter kit.
The hardware also comes with a software suite that also allows you to measure heartbeats and muscle movement as well.
Battling ALS isn't the only use for a brain-computer interface device. It can be used for everything from sharpening your memory to fighting disorders like depression or attention deficit disorder.
"We actually know people who have gotten off medications (for attention deficit disorder) with neuro-exercises," Murphy said.
The two figure the applications for their system are only limited to the collective imagination of the world's open source community.
"There are a lot of EEG platforms out there, but most of them are closed in some way or another," Russomanno said. "Either they do not allow you to put the electrodes where you want them to be, or the data is not accessible, so it makes it hard to do what you really want to do with the system."
More information about their company is available on their company Web site, openbci.com.