OpenBCI’s Project Galea was originally announced on November 19, 2020 as a “hardware and software platform that merges next-generation biometrics with mixed reality.” OpenBCI has been collaborating with MIT Ph.D. student Guillermo Bernal in integrating PhysioHMD’s design, which includes EOC, EMG, EDA, PPG sensors in addition to 10 EEG channels and eye-tracking into a single headset. On January 24th, Valve CEO Gabe Newell told New Zealand’s 1 NEWS that Valve was “working on an open source project so that everybody can have high-resolution [brain signal] read technologies built into headsets, in a bunch of different modalities.” 1 News reported that Valve was collaborating with OpenBCI. Then on February 4th, 2021, Tobii announced that it was “engaging in research collaboration with Valve and OpenBCI by incorporating Tobii’s eye tracking technology with elements of Valve’s Index hardware to produce developer units for the recently announced Galea Beta Program.” The Project Galea dev kits are expected to ship sometime in 2022, and Newell told 1 NEWS, “If you’re a software developer in 2022 who doesn’t have one of these in your test lab, you’re making a silly mistake.”
I first interviewed OpenBCI co-founder and CEO Conor Russomanno at Rothenberg Ventures’ Founder’s Day on May 16, 2016, which was the day before the 2016 Neurogaming Conference. It was also after the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference April 27-29, 2016, which is where I first really starting covering the topic of privacy in VR as it was after an UploadVR article on Facebook & VR privacy caught the attention of Senator Al Franken, who wrote Oculus a letter. I first spoke to Russomanno about some of the privacy implications of neuro-technologies back in 2016, and the ethical implications of neuro-tech has only increased as the capabilities of physiological measurement devices and what can be inferred from them have also been increasing.
I recently heard Russomanno speak about Project Galea on May 26th at the Non-Invasive Interfaces: Ethical Consideration symposium co-sponsored by the Columbia Neuro-Rights Initiative and Facebook Reality Labs.
81/ @ConorRussomanno showing the Galea prototype that has a lot of different neural input devices that they're collaborating with Valve on.
Unfortunately, missed out on the rest of his slide deck after his first slide.
[Reuploaded higher res photo] pic.twitter.com/FT20sSH4N2
— Kent Bye VoicesOfVR (@kentbye) May 26, 2021
He was also discussing some of the ethical and privacy implications of neuro-technologies, and he got into an interesting debate with Rafael Yuste, who I interviewed about Neuro-Rights in episode #994. They were debating whether or not technologies that are able to measure physiological data should be classified as medical devices that are capturing medical data. Russomanno doesn’t believe that the hardware technology should be regulated by the FDA and medical regulations since it’s likely that a project like OpenBCI would never be able to exist as it does today, but he’s also open to the possibility of giving special treatment to the data. Ultimately, Russomanno hopes that someday consumers will have more ownership and control over the data that are captured by these devices, but that there’s a long way to get there from where we are at right now.
I had a chance to talk with Russomanno on June 4th to be able to talk about the evolution of OpenBCI into Project Galea, a little bit about how their collaboration with Valve and Tobii came about, what type of insights they’re able to gather from these different physiological and biometric measurement sensors, the value of combining different sensory modalities together, and the potential of closed, feedback loop immersive systems that are able to help track and modulate different aspects of your brain, mind, and ultimately consciousness. We also talk about some of the potential healing, quantified self, and consciousness hacking applications, but also the risks of how these technologies could undermine our rights to mental privacy but also our agency. There are still more open questions than answers right now, but the open hardware approach by OpenBCI has been able to seed quite a lot of experimentation and research evaluation by major XR companies across the industry.
I’ll be releasing a series of interviews on Neuro-Rights and the Ethical Implications of XR & neuro-technologies starting with OpenBCI, but hearing about the technology policy research papers written by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation’s Ellysse Dick, the founder of the Contextual Integrity Theory of Privacy with Philosopher Helen Nissembaum, and then four representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation talking about privacy from a Human Rights perspective and reporting back from Rightscon. Also be sure to check out my recent conversations with Rafael Yuste on Neuro-Rights, Brittan Heller on biometric psychography, as well as with Joe Jerome on a historical primer on the history of privacy law.
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After hearing about all of the sensors that OpenBCI’s Project Galea was integrating, I did an audit of the different physiological and biometric sensors:
Here's an updated list of physiological & biometric data measurement devices + neurotechnology input devices based upon some feedback.
I'm still probable missing ones, but I also haven't found a canonical list anywhere.
I included it in my talk on XR Privacy I'll be posting soon. pic.twitter.com/UCssFjwMG2
— Kent Bye VoicesOfVR (@kentbye) June 3, 2021
Also, here’s a state of XR privacy talk that I gave at the AR/VR Association Global Summit that provides an overview of some of the biggest issues on privacy with the intersection between XR and neuro-technologies.
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