Building a 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brain for Burning Man and beyond

My cousin Katherine Leipper is part of a crew that's building a 15-foot-tall head and brain with interactive light and flame effects that will be controlled by a participant's brain waves.

Yup. Weirdness runs in our family.

She and her co-makers will take it to Burning Man, but the bigger plan is to take it around to schools after the festival, "to get kids excited about science, technology and fabrication."

Katherine and her brain-building buddies have a crowdsourcing campaign under way. They're well on their way, but if you love 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains like I love 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains, and you think America's children need more 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains in their classrooms because SCIENCE, you should kick in a little to ensure this weird dream comes true.

Katherine explains the wild idea to Boing Boing, below:

The Mens Amplio (Latin for "expanding the mind") will be an interactive model of a brain and head that stands 15 feet tall. Inside, LEDs will light up a branching structure representing a bundle of neurons that is made up of Endlighten rods, a special type of clear light-diffusing acrylic.

The sequence that the lights display will be determined by data from an EEG reader, attached to a participant's forehead. For example, calm, meditative readings may trigger ambient sequences, while active, attentive brainwaves will cause rapid pulses of light to shoot through it.

We're using a Raspberry Pi to run our software, which is primarily written in Python. To test our light sequences on-screen before the actual structure is complete, we're using Open Pixel Control, which has the advantage of handling both visualization of the model and actual LED updating through the same interface.

The outer surface of the brain itself is being constructed out of steel tubing, with the squiggly curves formed by a custom-built mandrel bender. Oh, and of course, there will also be fire. Flame effects additionally controlled by the Pi will be attached to the outside of the steel head structure. But you'll only see them go off if you can meditate!

After the Mens Amplio debuts on the Playa at Burning Man this year, the plan is to take it around to schools to demo it and get kids excited about science, technology and fabrication.

We have an Indiegogo campaign underway to help us fund the remainder of the costs associated with bringing it to schools.

More at the Indiegogo campaign site, where you can kick in some funding.

(All pix courtesy of Katherine Leipper)