Technology already exists to track of your mental activity. It’s called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which images blood flowing through the brain and measures the difference of levels of oxygen in the blood in order to evaluate mental activity. But it has a major drawback: it’s usually impaired by hair. That’s why researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and University of Texas at Arlington have been working on a device that is essentially a hairbrush that can measure and monitor brain activity.
The device is officially known as a “brush optrode,” which uses that same fNIRS technology, but in a way no other device has been able to up to this point. It’s designed to provide increased sensitivity with fiber tips that thread through hair to increase direct scalp contact. The technique is much more accurate when its sensors can actually touch the scalp.
Duncan MacFarlane is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, and one of the lead researchers on this project. He says, “It is easy for a patient’s hair to get in the way and block the signal” with conventional fNIRS technology. “So we developed a new tip for the fNIRS fibers — a brush optrode that slides the fibers between the hair follicles. Signal levels increase three- to five-fold, and patients report that the brush optrode is considerably more comfortable than the conventional fiber ends.”
Think about that one the next time you put a comb or brush through your hair.