Backyard Brains Logo

Neuroscience for Everyone!

+1 (855) GET-SPIKES (855-438-7745)


items ()

Though She Be But Little, She Can Hack

Arushi (age 10) with her dragonfly bot at Elle Hacks 2020

What did you do with your weekends when you were 10 years old? We bet it wasn’t participate in a women-driven hackathon where you developed your own functioning neural robot! (We bet you wish you did, though.) Arushi Nath, age 10, recently participated in Elle Hacks 2020, an all-women hackathon hosted by York University in Canada. Arushi saw our DIY Neurosci TED episode and was fascinated by our findings about dragonflies, nature’s most accurate hunter, and she decided to make a bot that mimicked dragonfly behavior.

Arushi’s Dragonfly Bot

Dragonflies are highly accurate hunters due to their ability to sense their prey, using dedicated neurons on each side of its brain, and Arushi wanted to represent this sensing with her bot. Using an Arduino, mini servos, and a breadboard, Arushi devised a Dragonfly Bot that could sense light from either the left “eye” or right “eye” and stimulate corresponding outputs. In nature, these outputs would move the dragonfly left or right toward its target. In two days, Arushi was able to build and code a working robot that could simulate basic dragonfly visual processes!

Arushi isn’t the only one in her family that digs science, either. The Nath family from Toronto, Canada created their “maker-family enterprise” known as HotPopRobot in 2014 after they won a hackathon together. You can follow along with HotPopRobot on Twitter at @wonrobot, for more details about their events and projects (we will definitely be giving them a follow)! Arushi has been attending maker events since she was 5 years old, and she is thrilled to be able to participate all on her own now.

Arushi presenting her bot to the judges

It is wonderful that more and more events like Elle Hacks are popping up across the scientific community in recent years. Elle Hacks centers women in science, creating places for typically underrepresented individuals to develop their interests and foster connections, and they make it possible for girls like Arushi to get a head start on figuring out their passions.

At Backyard Brains, we are in the business of democratizing neuroscience, and we feel incredibly validated when our past projects inspire kids to take the initiative and grab the reins of their scientific future. We hope Arushi continues to hack her way into adulthood!

If you’re interested in more work with dragonflies, head to the inspiration for Arushi’s project: our 2017 summer fellow’s blog post about our non-invasive dragonfly visual recorder.

We love stories like this! Have your own? Email us with your hacks at hello@backyardbrains.com! We can’t wait to hear what you have discovered!


Control Video Games with your Brain!

As educators, we are always trying to keep up with our students. We understand that technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and the way students entertain themselves in their free time is changing. Video games are an incredibly popular activity among students of all ages. To best engage with students, our aim is to blend their interests with science, to let them flex their gaming skills alongside their budding critical-engineering perspective, and best yet, to make STEM learning just a little bit competitive!

The Game Controller

The BYBGame Controller allows students to capture electrical signals from their muscles, hearts, and eyes, and use these spikes of activity to control video games!

Starting with simple games like Super Mario, Galaga, and Pong, students learn the basics of biofeedback. In medicine and physical therapy, similar systems are used to help people exercise, train motor control, and build strength!

This phenomenon is also an example of assistive technology! Not everyone is physically able to use the standard Mouse & Keyboard / video game controllers which many of us use to interface with our video games and computers. Systems like these allow for differently-abled peopled to plug in and play games using other parts of their body!

Upping the Complexity… What about 3D video games?

Students can continue to explore with the Game Controller and come up with ways to interface with all of their favorite games.

Check out this simple example above of how Will set up World of Warcraft to take input from his eyes and arms.

Program Your Own Game Controller with the Muscle SpikerShield Pro

“But 3 inputs isn’t enough to play my favorite game!”

I hear you. Me too.

Using the Muscle SpikerShield Pro and some simple code, you can take over total keyboard and mouse control.

In this example, I combined the Muscle SpikerShield Pro and Game Controller to have 9-inputs into World of Warcraft.

  1. Start Running
  2. Stop Running
  3. Turn Left
  4. Turn Right
  5. Target Enemy
  6. Change Target
  7. Small Attack
  8. Big Attack
  9. Heart-Beat Display

With just a bit of troubleshooting, I was able to actively play an online, multiplayer game, using only signals from my muscles and heart as inputs!

What about Multiplayer games?

Lastly, also using the Muscle SpikerShield Pro, students can control and compete in multiplayer games!

In real physical therapy, this is an effective way to motivate sedentary or injured people to exercise targetted parts of their bodies! It’s also a lot of fun… I asked Zach and Caitlin to help for just a few minutes, and then they played all the way up to over 100 points!

Get Started with the Game Controller – an Expansion kit for the Muscle SpikerBox Pro

The Game Controller is an expansion product which requires a Muscle SpikerBox Pro and a Desktop or Laptop computer running Windows or MacOS.

Check it out in our store, and put your students on a cutting edge track to come up with the biofeedback devices of the future!


8th Grade Classroom Showcase: Students Develop Neuroprosthetics Designed to Assist Senior Citizens, Win State-Wide Awards

Last school year we worked with teachers across the country to help bring real, meaningful neuroscience lessons into their classrooms. From 5th grade to university, educators and students loved learning about how the brain works, how we study the brain, and how we engineer devices that can be controlled by the brain!

One educator, in particular, had a compelling project for her students.

You might remember Middle School STEM educator Amy Farkas from a featured blog post last summer: A 7th Grade STEM Classroom’s Neuroscience Adventure

If we had to sum up our experience working with Amy in one tweet, I think this would be appropriate:

(more…)