Friday, November 2, 2012

New High-Tech Helmet Aims To Extract Information From Your Brain


Remember that scene in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader learns about Luke’s sister just by reading his thoughts?

["Your thoughts betray you," says Darth Vader]
Well the same might just happen to you soon – and if you don’t happen to have a cinnamon-roll-haired twin sister whose existence you’d like to keep a secret, think of all the security PINs and bank accounts details that could be extracted from your non-Jedi mind.
Le Monde reports that using affordable brain-computer interface helmets (simple electroencephalography devices that cost about $500), a group of researchers at the USENIX Security Symposium managed to monitor the brain electrical activity and infer participants’ PIN digits, zip codes and birth dates.
The team, led by Ivan Martinovic of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, was studying the dangers of brain-computer interface (BCI) devices:
"We take a first step in studying the security implications of such devices and demonstrate that this upcoming technology could be turned against users to reveal their private and secret information. We use inexpensive electroencephalography (EEG) based BCI devices to test the feasibility of simple, yet effective, attacks. The captured EEG signal could reveal the user’s private information about, e.g., bank cards, PIN numbers, area of living, the knowledge of the known persons."
Daniele Perito of the University of California, Berkeley, one of the paper’s authors, told the New York City-based Canadian magazine Vice: "It’s going to be a while, but I think it is going to be much easier to get certain information like someone’s political preference or sexual orientation."
If you have a half-hour to spare and want to understand the risks of side-channel attacks with brain-computer interfaces, the video below explains it all.

The 7 Best Android Text-To-Speech Engines

Posting from Geoff Simmons at:!/2012/06/7-best-android-text-to-speech-engines.html
One of the coolest things about Android is how you can plug'n'play different components. There are numerous different web browsers, email clients, music players, and text-to-speech (TTS) engines. At iHear Network, we get an inside look into what TTS engines people are using. What we have seen is roughly what you would expect, that people with better TTS engines listen to more content than the people with the default or worse engines.

I have personally used a number of different engines and voices. I evaluate a voice by the following characteristics:
Sonic Quality - Does it have a high enough resolution sample to be believable?
  • Meter - Is the pace of speaking consistent with what you would expect?
  • Variance - Does the voice account for any difference based on the inflection of the word in context? This is generally pretty hard to do, so voices that excel here get a few bonus points, but it can be taken too far (see below).
To put a numeric value on the quality of a voice, we can compare the average number of plays per user for a given engine vs the average across all engines to obtain a relative playability score. Here are how they stack up:

[Update: The total for IVONA is now correct. Thanks for reporting that.]

IVONA Text-to-Speech HQ (FREE - ~250MB/voice)
Quality: 10 Meter: 8 Variance: 8 Playability: 7 Total: 33

Ivona voices are some of the best sounding voices, in my opinion, especially considering that they are all currently free. They seem to have more variations on how it says certain phrases, which makes reading longer articles more digestible and less robotic. It achieves this with a much larger data package that you need to download, which we recommend you do over WiFi to avoid extra data charges. Some people complain about Ivona being slow to start talking and/or that they experience delays during speech. I suspect this relates to how big the data set is and how their engine might synthesize speech. iHear Network has advanced speech caching to address this issue and deliver a very fluid experience with all engines, so your experience with IVONA may vary with other apps.

Classic Text To Speech Engine ($2.99 - ~10-20MB/voice)
Quality: 7 Meter: 8 Variance: 7 Playability: 10 Total: 32

Covers the most languages of any engine (40+). They also have a few different voices for English. Victoria is my favorite. She has great meter and enough variance to keep it non-robotic. The sonic quality is decent, but not the best. One thing we noticed while working with SVOX voices is that it is actually very hard to switch between different variants for a particular language-country combo. iHear Network has deeply integrated with SVOX to provide the best TTS experience. SVOX users listened to over twice as many articles as IVONA users, and over 10 times as many compared to most other engines.

CereProc (~$1.60 - ~140-170MB/voice)
Quality: 9 Meter: 9 Variance: 8 Playability: N/A Total: *26*

I've tried the Idyacy Dodo Glasgow voice, and it's nearly incomprehensible. They also have Dog and Pig Latin. I'm not joking, you can really have your phone bark at you. However, the premium voices for CereProc are based on years of development for desktop deployments and they now have some of those voices available for Android. The download for Caitlin is 141MB, but automatically downloads to the SD card (at least on 2.3+). Caitlin is about the same quality as SVOX Victoria UK and close to Ivona Amy UK. I also checked out Adam (171MB, $1.60), and it is the most natural sounding English US voice that I have heard yet. Ivona's Kendra US voice is decent, as is SVOX's Grace voice, but Adam seems the most human to me, both in terms of meter and variance, with top notch sound quality.
*NOTE* CereProc doesn't have enough users to have a very meaningful Playability score, but I would expect it to be in the 8-10 range, which would put its total up to the 34-36 range.

Loquendo TTS Susan (~$5.36 - ~42MB)
Quality: 7 Meter: 6 Variance: 10 Playability: 4 Total: 27

Susan is an interesting voice. She is pretty emotional, which makes her a bit more human, but sometimes it goes over the top. Susan will convert certain emoticons into laughing, crying, and a couple of other sounds, which is unique to Loquendo. However, we've found that on longer text, she tends to get a little jumbled up. This might be due to some minor instability in the underlying engine. I'd be curious to see what more people think about this engine. Considering the high price of Loquendo, I would expect much more.

Google TTS (Free, limited availability)
Quality: 5 Meter: 6 Variance: 5 Playability: 6 Total: 22

This engine comes with some devices and is ironically not available on Google Play. I have a Samsung Tab 2 7.0 that came with some of these voices and they seem to be the new replacement for Pico voices. The british voice is male, which is an improvement over the old Pico UK voice, but we were hoping for something better on ICS/Samsung.

SVOX Pico (Free, limited availability)
Quality: 5 Meter: 7 Variance: 5 Playability: 4 Total: 21

This is the default voice installed on most Android devices (78% of iHear Network's user base), and has a few drawbacks. First, it might not have the TTS data installed when you first get your phone. This often leads to a case where the worst possible voice is used as a default and no international options are available. Second, the pico voices, at least for English, are pretty robotic sounding, especially the US one. For this reason, we typically default to the GB voice on new installs. Notice that Pico was developed by SVOX, after which they started building and selling premium voices that are branded as SVOX Classic.

Samsung TTS (FREE on Samsung devices)
Quality: 6 Meter: 6 Variance: 5 Playability: 4 Total: 21

Our tests with the Samsung voices show that for some reason, the volume of the voice drops way down. Even if it wasn't buggy, it still doesn't sound any better than Pico or Google TTS.

ESpeak (Not one of the top 7)
Quality: 2 Meter: 3 Variance: 1 Playability: N/A Total: 6

This is possibly the worst voice I've ever heard. Switching between variants has always been a problem with Android's TTS API, but I know a lot of tricks to get it to work, and even I had problems with this engine. ESpeak sounds worse than old school Stephen Hawking. I tried to download EasyTts, which supposedly is an upgrade of ESpeak, but it just sounded like Pico US.

In summary, it's really hard to beat Ivona, considering that it is currently free, unless you don't want to download the 250+ MB data packages. CereProc voices seem to be the best value for the money of all the pay voices, and it will be very interesting to see if they can catch up with SVOX in popularity. Considering that you get as good or better experience for almost half the price, I can't see why not. I look forward to the day when all android devices come with a nice premium voice as a default, but until then, there are some good options available on Google Play.

Don't forget to check out iHear Network for a great Social News Narrator that reads Twitter, Facebook, and Pocket to you out loud.

See Also:

Submit your vidoes now! 2013 Neuro Film Festival

Submit Your Video Now!
Watch Videos Now!

2013 Neuro Film Festival

Deadline: January 31, 2013
The American Brain Foundation, the foundation for the American Academy of Neurology, is calling on all neurology patients, caregivers, and others to submit a short video to its 2013 Neuro Film Festival telling their story about why more money for research is needed in finding cures for brain diseases. Winners could win up to $1,000 and a trip to San Diego, California. The deadline to enter is January 31, 2013.

Now in its fourth year, the Neuro Film Festival aims to raise awareness about the need to donate money for research into the prevention, treatment, and cure of brain and nervous system diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, autism, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. Since 2010, more than more than 300 films have been submitted with more than 100,000 video views.
For questions, please contact

Neuro Film Festival Contest Rules and Guidelines

View the 2013 Neuro Film Festival Rules and Guidelines

View the 2013 Neuro Film Festival Prizes and Judging Criteria

List of Brain and Nervous System Diseases

The views expressed in the films are those of the entrants and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the American Brain Foundation and its affiliated organizations.

Neuro Film Festival: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Neuro Film Festival?
A: The Neuro Film Festival is a contest held by the American Brain Foundation to help raise awareness about brain and nervous system diseases and the need to support research into preventions, treatments, and cures.

Q: Who is the American Brain Foundation?
A: The American Brain Foundation, the foundation of the American Academy of Neurology, is an independent organization that aims to become the world's leader in raising money to cure brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, Parkinson's disease, autism, and epilepsy.

Q: How can I enter my video?
A: Submitting your video is easy. Just follow the submission form. Be sure you submit your entry as a video response to How to Submit a Video.

Q: Do I have to be an expert filmmaker to enter my video?
A: No, you do not need to be an expert to enter your video. Any video telling a story about someone with a brain disorder is eligible.

Q: Can film students, video hobbyists, or film-industry professionals submit an entry to the contest?
A: Yes, filmmakers of all experience levels are encouraged to enter.

Q: I'm an educator, how can I incorporate the Neuro Film Festival into my curriculum?
A: Have a look at the letter to educators. You can also download the printable poster to hang in your classroom.

Q: I want to make my video about _[disorder]_, is it considered a neurologic disorder?
A: View a complete index of neurologic disorders, all of which are acceptable for entry.

Q: I'm having issues viewing the YouTube clip or uploading my film to YouTube.
A: YouTube provides technical help through their parent, Google. Be sure that you submit your film as a video response to the 2013 Neuro Film Festival How to Submit a Video.

Q: Can my video be longer than 5:00 minutes?
A: No. Videos longer than 5:00 minutes will not be accepted. For example, a video at 5 minutes and 2 seconds would not be accepted.
For questions, please contact

2012 Neuro Film Festival Winners

The American Brain Foundation is pleased to announce the winning entries for its 2012 Neuro Film Festival, a contest to raise awareness through video about the need to support research into the prevention, treatment and cure of brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, autism, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
GRAND PRIZE ($1,000 and a trip to New Orleans)
Awarded by a panel of judges for the film exhibiting creativity in a technically polished presentation:
The Astronaut's Secret by Zach Jankovic
Awarded by a select panel of judges:
Duchenne with a Future: The Power to Live by Patrick Moeschen
FAN FAVORITE AWARD (Online Recognition)
Awarded by peers as a result of public voting on video entries:
Multiple System Atrophy MSA by Paola Vermeer
Nearly 300 films have been submitted since the Festival began in 2010. Click the button above to watch the videos now.
To donate to research through the American Brain Foundation, visit

Neuro Film Festival Tools for Teachers

Download Classroom Poster

Print Letter to Film Schools

For questions, please contact
The Neuro Film Festival is sponsored by

A Go-Anywhere Tankchair


From: Popular Science - 09/2006 - page 83

By: Gregory Mone

With heavy-duty treads, clever wiring and a whole lot of jury-rigging, Brad Soden made his wife a wheelchair that can conquer any terrain.

Wheelchairs and camping just don't mix. But the Soden family of Parker, Arizona, is an outdoors clan. So when Brad Soden's wife, Liz, lost the use of her legs in an accident, he knew she needed something that could roll over snow, mud, and brush. She needed a tank.

Read the entire article at:



The Tank Chair (with videos)


  Tank Chair with head array (0:36)

  Tank Chair on the farm (3:10)


Tank Chair Mobility



Home Robot Makes Salad and Cleans the Dishes

From: Robotic Trends

Researchers from the Korean Institute of Science and Technology's (KIST) Center for Intelligent Robotics (CIR) demonstrated their household service robot, CIROS, at Robot World 2012. CIROS, the third version of the robot since development began in 2005, is intended to help out around the home by performing simple chores.

Read the entire article at:


CIROS (with video 2:41)

 CIROS images


 RoboCup Competition - service and assistive robot technology (with videos)