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BITalino: A DIY toolkit for physiological computing

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By eeNews Europe


He is also a co-founder of PLUX: Wireless Biosignals, a company that focuses on creating technologies for the healthcare and quality-of-life markets. His latest project, the BITalino, is a low-cost, modular biosignal sensor kit.

As you may recall from my recent blog on the Fitbit Zip, I have an interest in wearable electronic devices. I love my Fitbit Zip, but it is somewhat limited in that it can detect and record only the number of steps I take in a day. I would also be interested in knowing other things, such as my heart rate throughout the day.

In fact, it would be interesting to monitor a host of biosignals. For example, an electrocardiography (ECG) sensor can be used to monitor the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time. An electromyography (EMG) sensor can be used to evaluate and record the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. An electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor can be used to monitor the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies with its moisture level. This is of interest because the sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, so skin conductance can be an indicator of psychological or physiological arousal.

The monitoring, recording, analysis, and interpretation of biosignals has traditionally been focused on medical and quality-of-life applications. More recently, biosignals (combined with data from other sensors, like accelerometers and ambient light sensors) have started appearing in a wide variety of other areas, including informatics, a broad academic field encompassing computer science, information science, information technology, and human-computer interaction. As one example of this, consider controlling a small, remote-controlled robot simply by moving your arm around.

Until recently, these types of sensors would have been horrendously expensive, and using them would have been horrendously complicated. This is the point where Silva leaps to center stage with a fanfare of trumpets brandishing his low-cost, modular BITalino biosignal sensor kit. The current incarnation includes an ECG, an EMG, an EDA, an accelerometer, and an ambient light sensor. These are connected together and presented on a single board, as illustrated below.

The cool thing is that each functional block can be snapped off and used independently, or the blocks can be gathered together in different combinations. (You can also connect additional sensors and functional units as you wish.) The BITalino’s plug-and-play approach keeps things as simple as possible.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that the sensors can interface with computing platforms like the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi. (See: Wrapping One’s Brain Around the Arduino, Part 1.) Furthermore, the BITalino includes Bluetooth connectivity, so it can be deployed in mobile applications.

Last, but certainly not least, the BITalino comes with software for a biosignal processing toolbox, a framework for real-time data acquisition, visualization and recording tools, and an application programming interface to make developers’ lives easier.

I must admit that all this is making me excited. Remember that I sponsored a Kickstarter project for one of those nano-hexacopters. Now my head is full of visions of using the BITalino to control this little beauty. We certainly live in interesting times.


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