It is not everyday you get to control a motor with your mind. Led by Dr. Hugo Sanabria in the Department of Biophysics, the Mind Controlled 3D Printing Creative Inquiry aims to only utilize the electrical signals given off by your brain to design and build whatever you can imagine.
3D printing has become popular with the onset of the Maker Movement -- a shift toward open-source software with collaboration among numerous people online through streams, forums, and other modes of online communication. The DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality of this movement is encapsulated in Sanabria’s Creative Inquiry and especially by one of the head students of the project, Perry Bolick, a mechanical engineering senior. After taking one of Sanabria’s classes, Bolick and Sanabria decided to combine their backgrounds in biophysics and mechanical engineering to take on this demanding project. “Neither of us knew what the other specialty had to offer, so until we came together, I don’t think either of us could have made it happen on our own,” Bolick reflected.
After researching current developments in the field, like mind controlled video games and drones, the team picked up an EEG (electroencephalogram) made to monitor electrical signals produced by the brain. These signals are interpreted by a ModeAnalytics proprietary algorithm that identifies each signal and maps it to a magnitude and direction. The mapped signals are then turned into keystrokes in a program that the Creative Inquiry has developed, which are then converted to a printer’s G code. So far, they’ve been able to 3D print in one dimension and are eventually hoping to be able to write letters by printing in three dimensions with multiple motors.
Sanabria attributes the project’s success to the team’s resourcefulness and diversity. He divided up the groups within the project to have equal numbers of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science majors. “As a mechanical engineer, it’s imperative for us to be learning electrical and computer engineering at the same time. You need to be fluent in programming. You need to be fluent in electrical. It’s just required now, you don’t have a choice,” Bolick said.
As the onset of the Maker Movement has called upon people to innovate, this Creative Inquiry has answered in their own individual style while gaining crucial engineering experience along the way. “From my perspective, it’s a perfect engineering type of project. It’s interdisciplinary and you get to be hands-on and solve problems which are really critical when you go into the job market,” Sanabria said. With 3D printing becoming incorporated into manufacturing and larger industrial processes, the students in this project are sure to advance into the workforce with a unique set of skills.