When Bryan Salt, a creative director from the U.K., was a kid, he would dream "of a machine that could create real objects from thought alone: to imagine a thing and it would appear in front of me ready made." Salt is working to make that dream a reality with his Chile-based startup Thinker Thing, which is in the process of creating a system called the Monster Dreamer that can generate 3-D models of creatures built from children’s brainwave data via a sensor-equipped headset. From there, those objects are easily realized in plastic with a MakerBot.
I caught up with Salt over Facebook chat, and he explained how exactly Thinker Thing is able to create 3-D models by reading brain waves. "It’s not that you imagine an object and it appears," he explains. "It’s very difficult to know you’re thinking of the color red, but it’s very easy to find out you prefer the color red."
Instead, children put on a headset and are presented with a variety of creatures with different characteristics. Through their brain waves, 14 sensors can tell which creatures excite and interest (or bore) the children most. As they look at more and more images, the "DNA" of their preferred creatures is "cross mated" to create unique hybrids. In Salt’s words:
Let’s say you like a creature with four arms and two eyes and is long and thin. You also like something with four arms, four eyes, and is fat. We cross-mate these, and what happens is genes with four arms becomes strengthened, but that does not prevent further mutations happening. You’re expressing a preference for the complex results from a DNA rule set you don’t need to understand. A choice is not made about the arms; it’s a choice about the total creature.
It’s a complicated system. "The child doesn’t worry about this," says Salt, "He just has a natural reaction to the input and we capture that from the brain."
This is a workaround of the current limitations in the kind of information that’s easily made available to us from brain scans. The result is that children are able to participate in the process of crafting 3-D models, which otherwise depends on software that’s "complex, outdated, difficult to use, and requires years of learning," Salt explains in a video for the company.
The project is being funded by the Chilean government and piloted in regional schools as a way to bring arts, science, and technology education to underprivileged children, and inspire them that "technology, art, and engineering, can be used in magical ways," says Salt.
For now, Thinker Thing is able to get enough information to produce the spine, arms, heads, and tails of the creatures. The company expects to be able to print complete monsters by June 26.