Funded! This project was successfully funded on December 8, 2012.

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Puzzlebox Orbit is an educational toy that combines a brain-controlled helicopter with open hardware, software, and teaching material

For the past two years Puzzlebox has been producing brain-controlled helicopters for classrooms and television. Now comes the chance to fly your own.

The Purpose

Join the experiment.

We are building and selling this crazy new toy. Then we show everyone how we made it. We will sell finished, working, brain-controlled helicopters but also release guides and software for taking them apart to rebuild or customize. We will publish lessons on how mind-controlled devices actually work and how infrared signals steer the aircraft. We are testing a hypothesis that this form of cooperation can succeed commercially while aiding the pursuit of science and education.

Our overall goal is to explore an Open approach to Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology. Advances at the cutting edge are waiting to find their way to the public and this project is our latest contribution. If our funding is successful all material including source code, hardware schematics, and documentation will be freely distributed.

Then we start the next experiment.

The Product

Puzzlebox Orbit features a unique spherical design that protects helicopter blades from unintended impact with objects such as walls and ceilings, while lending a pleasantly technical aesthetic. Despite remote control helicopters in general having earned a reputation for being fragile we have been extremely pleased with the build quality and resilience of our samples. They have survived several falls and collisions over the course of development and testing without noticeable damage.

We offer two models, the first designed to be used with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. A NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset is required to communicate with the device over Bluetooth. Our software then extracts and visualizes your brainwaves in realtime. Command signals are issued to the Puzzlebox Orbit via an infrared adapter connected to the audio port (for compatibility with Apple's iOS).

Puzzlebox Pyramid (Prototype)
Puzzlebox Pyramid (Prototype)

Puzzlebox Pyramid is supplied with our second, self-contained model. The Pyramid acts as a home base and remote control unit for the Orbit. It features a custom-designed, programmable micro-controller compatible with popular boards from Arduino. Twelve multi-colored LED lights are arranged according to clock positions on the face of the Pyramid and are used to indicate current levels of concentration, mental relaxation, and EEG signal quality. The lights can be customized to display different colors and patterns with distinct meanings according to preference. Lining the rim are several infrared LEDs that operate the helicopter and with software programming are capable of controlling additional IR toys and devices including televisions.

With either edition the user can select a "flight path" for the helicopter (such as "hover in place" or "fly across the room") to be carried out whenever a targetted personal mental state is detected and maintained. Third-party developers are able and encouraged to contribute new features and modes of flight control.

Puzzlebox Orbit relies on EEG hardware from NeuroSky to produce measurements of attention and meditation. Leveraging their hardware plus our proven track record with BCI has yielded a much faster and smoother time to market, empowering us to focus on building the best possible product and software. We offer rewards to backers both with and without pre-packaged headsets included.

Puzzlebox Orbits and Pyramids
Puzzlebox Orbits and Pyramids

The Process

Our hardware engineer returned to China at the beginning of November to oversee our manufacturing process. We have confirmed a readily-available supply of Orbit helicopters, infrared dongles for our mobile edition, and NeuroSky headsets sufficient to fill all orders for our December reward tier. Delivery to backers is expected in time for the holidays along with feature-complete beta software made available for testing on a variety of handsets and devices.

For Puzzlebox Pyramid we will use either SLA 3D printing or injection molding, based on demand. We have contacted several manufacturers who can form the mold, including a major provider in China. Our custom circuit board for Pyramid is still under design, but will be finished this month. Hao (our hardware engineer) is a Chinese national, having maintained connections to PCB manufacturers in Southern China since his early career. We have a good relationship with a significant electronic components provider as well as top factories to produce and solder PCBs. Normally it is hard to find a factory willing to train workers to assemble products numbering only in the hundreds but we have solid ties with several consumer electronics manufacturers (including one factory renowned for producing brand-name housewares such as hair dryers) and they will assemble and package Pyramids for us, regardless of number of units. Local knowledge, language, and relationships play a key role here.

Finally we have arranged for receipt, repackaging, and domestic shipping of complete systems for the US and (soon) Canada. Dependent upon response, as a flex goal we would add additional reward tiers with Orbits, Pyramids, EEG headsets, and mobile device controllers to be shipped in subsequent months. International shipping will become available in (northern) Spring 2013.

The Result

If successful our project will publish all software, protocols, and available hardware schematics under Open Source (and/or Creative Commons) licenses. We are willing to risk sharing our intellectual property in this way because we believe it is the best way to grow our community and to increase knowledge in the field.

Finally if fully funded we will produce videos and illustrated documentation explaining how the various neuroscience principles and technologies involved actually operate (including EEG and infrared transmitters). Because as cool as it might be to fly a helicopter with your brain, its cooler understanding how it all works.

Puzzlebox Brainstorms in the classroom
Puzzlebox Brainstorms in the classroom

We envision the Puzzlebox Orbit being used for entertainment, personal training of mental focus or relaxation, and as an aid to teaching science and technology from middle school through to university level. Basic principles should be understandable by a motivated 10-year-old. Any interested high school or college student should be able to access and extend our software and designs.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

We're anxious to explore and explain both the possibilities and limitations of EEG technology with consumer-grade hardware, and believe we have to be clear and honest when it comes to setting expectations. We are aware that misrepresentation could set back public perception of this industry for years.

When using the current Brain-Computer Interface, it will not be possible to steer the Puzzlebox Orbit in more than one direction at a time. With practice a user should be able to improve their ability to concentrate (or alternatively, relax). This effects the duration they can maintain flight as well as response time at take-off. But the science simply does not support being able to distinguish between multiple "intentions" with this quantity or placement of electrodes.

A more specific technical challenge will be to find the "sweet spot" flight settings at which the helicopter can hover as still as possible under a variety of room sizes and conditions, or fly in a straight line for long distances. We will likely have to find reasonable compromises and offer customizable trim settings to the user.

By way of disclosure at this stage we have not yet begun software development for the iOS edition but can confirm that our IR hardware is compatible. Initial releases may arrive as source code only, until our finished application has been approved by Apple for distribution in the App Store. This should be considered by backers seeking a December reward package.

FAQ

  • Our first prototype is complete. Our brain-control software communicates with the headset under Mac OS X, Linux, Windows and Android. We have built and tested several Puzzlebox Pyramid base stations with helicopter control. A fully operational Brain-Computer Interface release of our software for mobile devices will be ready by December.

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  • We have selected the NeuroSky MindWave for use with this product. NeuroSky has been an excellent partner on past endeavors and we really enjoy working with their team. For the Pyramid version of Puzzlebox Orbit we require the original http://store.neurosky.com/products/mindwave-1, which includes a USB RF dongle to wirelessly community with the EEG headset. The mobile device version of Puzzlebox Orbit is designed for the http://store.neurosky.com/products/mindwave-mobile, the Bluetooth equivalent. Because we use an official MindWave headset, existing owners do not need to purchase a new headset and backers are free to explore NeuroSky's online http://store.neurosky.com/ for more brainwave-based games and applications.

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  • The source code of Linux/Mac/PC software and mobile apps will be published as soon as the project is funded. PCB schematics and layouts, firmware, and 3D model of the Pyramid will be sent to each backer when his/her reward is shipped. When all rewards have shipped their final designs will be considered complete and released freely.

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  • The Puzzlebox Pyramid is a completely custom hardware module designed for controlling Puzzlebox Orbit and compatible future devices. Our hardware engineer returned to China in early November to oversee manufacturing (see above). For the Orbit helicopter and mobile device's IR adapter we have researched and carefully selected multiple supply chains. The EEG headset is supplied by NeuroSky.

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  • Estimate flight time from the manufacturer is listed as "over 7 minutes"

    We have confirmed this with one of our sample units by maintaining hover mode for over 9 minutes. Note that this time would decrease somewhat when flying forward as a separate propeller (visible at the top of the Puzzlebox Orbit) is powered during forward and backward motion.

    Recharging is possible via included USB adapter and rated at 30 minutes.

    Note that the IR dongle included for mobile device control includes its own internal battery so as to not require power from your phone or tablet. This is also recharged via the same USB cable as used with the helicopter. The IR dongle can still be used while it is charging. On a full charge the transmitter is rated for 2 hours of use (with a 90 minute recharge).

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  • UPDATE: We are pleased to announce international shipping options for the Puzzlebox Orbit. Arrangements were initially complicated by the Puzzlebox Orbit and Pyramid being manufactured on a different continent than the NeuroSky EEG headsets. Where we previously had a single large international shipment for all domestic orders, we now have one large shipment travelling the opposite direction followed by several additional international shipments to individual backers. This is reflected in the increased cost and delivery window for the worldwide reward tiers.

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  • The Puzzlebox Pyramid is for anyone who wants a self-contained system. It does not require a mobile device. All of the brainwave processing occurs on the internal micro-controller, is visualized using multi-colored LEDs, and the Pyramid sends flight commands via infrared. It is not necessary to download any additional software from (for example) Apple's App Store or Google Play. Everything required is already built into the Puzzlebox Pyramid. This may be desirable when gifting the system as a toy.

    Additionally we are targeting hardware hackers and the DIY community. Having a programmable IR controller offers capabilities beyond flying the brain-controlled helicopter. For example, the Pyramid could have software loaded onto it so that it functions as a clock, using the colored LEDs to indicate time, with an alarm function set to turn on a television, change to a particular channel, and raise the volume. A developer may wish to add support for a different remote-controlled vehicle, such as a car or boat. One of our goals is to provide the information and learning material necessary to take on such a project, and hardware such as the Puzzlebox Pyramid makes this possible.

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    Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter system complete with infrared adapter for use with Android or iOS mobile handsets. EEG hardware not included. This edition is perfect for those looking to get an early start with our software or who already own a NeuroSky Mindwave headset.

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    Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter plus NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset for use with Android or iOS mobile handsets. This edition is intended for developers, testers, and other early collaborators. At only $20 more than retail cost for the MindWave Mobile itself this is a great bargain!

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    Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter plus NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset for use with Android or iOS mobile handsets. This edition is intended for developers, testers, and other early collaborators. As our $149 tier fills up we have added more units available in time for the holidays!

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    Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter plus NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset for use with Android or iOS mobile handsets. This edition is intended for developers, testers, and other early collaborators. With our $149 and $169 tiers full these are the last units bundled with EEG headsets available in time for the holidays!

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    Second round and worldwide backers. Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter plus NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset for use with Android or iOS mobile handsets. This edition is intended for developers, testers, and other early collaborators. Price includes international shipping but receiver may be accountable for additional taxes (can vary between 10%-20% in some countries).

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    This reward package includes the complete Puzzlebox Orbit helicopter, Puzzlebox Pyramid remote control base station and a NeuroSky MindWave EEG headset.

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