Northwestern students are developing a system that will allow them to read a football player's brain waves from across the field. It's first test is against Nebraska this weekend.
"That's not a real good description", was the response I got from Peter Hollingsworth when I mentioned the headline for this article. Hollingsworth is a junior developmental biology major at Northwestern, and the lead of a team in charge of developing a system that yet doesn't have a name.
"That makes it sound like we're going to intercept Nebraska's radio signals between coaches, and that's not what we're doing. What we are going to do is to use radio signals to read the Nebraska plays directly from the Husker players' brains."
It isn't much different than the Hubble telescope reading radio signals from outer space, Hollingsworth explained.
"Even a freshman in high school understands that the human nervous system sends signals throughout the body to communicate, and that those signals are essentially electrical signals. Since they're electrical signals, a radio receiver can read them.
Electroencephalography has existed since German physiologist Hans Berger first recorded brain signals in 1924, but up until now the technology wasn't available to read such sensitive signals from as far away as across a football field.
The other piece to the puzzle is increased computing power in processing the brain's signals. For that, Hollingsworth's friend and Northwestern sophomore computer science and cognitive psychology major JoyDeep Pandit developed the computer system that will make the signals readable by football coaches.
"Keep in mind, we're not exactly reading the plays, either. It's more like we're doing pattern matching. If Nebraska runs an inverted veer, we'll read that set of signals from the Husker offense and store it. Then if they line up to run the same play again, the brain patterns will be matched and we'll know exactly what they're doing before they do it."
All this to make sure Northwestern beats Nebraska?
"Really, we don't care if we beat Nebraska or not. Our goal is ultimately to develop the technology, then share it with other Big Ten schools so they have an advantage when they're playing teams from the SEC."
When asked if this might lead to an unfair advantage for Big Ten Schools, Pandit replied, "They have good weather, a more sports-oriented demography to choose from and their colleges will admit morons if they can play football. The Big Ten's advantage is its brain power and it's about time we put it to use on the football field."
And what about a name for this system?
"We're not marketing majors", laughed Pandit. "We're looking for suggestions."