Remotely Deploying Neural Experiments to Hundreds of Participants

emotiv labs feature

The following post reflects an interview with EMOTIV research and data scientists:

  • Dr Bill King, Director of Research Engineering
  • Dr Nikolas Williams, Senior Research Scientist
  • Dr Roshini Randeniya, Research Officer

The focus will be on using the EmotivLABS platform to remotely deploy EEG experiments to large and diverse sample sets around the globe.

The post includes excerpts from our conversations, along with broader contextual topics. The conversation included:

EmotivLABS: From Internal Tools to a Crowd-Sourcing Research Cloud-Based Platform

Can a researcher remotely deploy neural experiments to hundreds of participants?

Psychology and cognitive science experiments collecting behavioral data points (response time, survey responses) were the earliest adopters of internet use for research data collection. However, these experimental designs do not need to be limited to behavioral data endpoints. Before EmotivLABS, the collection of neural data remotely was non-existent.

Bill: “Up until now, researchers have not been able to capture actual brain data (neural data) from remote subjects.”

The earliest iterations of EmotivLABS were custom-developed toolkits researchers developed for internal use, out of necessity. These roots have uniquely established EMOTIV and the team as thought and market leaders in remote neural data collection.

For over a decade, EMOTIV has:

  • Pushed the boundaries of technology-enabled, portable and low-cost EEG hardware.
  • Increased accessibility innovations in software.
  • Established sustainable solutions to three main issues plaguing neuroscience. This refers to:

Nikolas: The EmotivLABS platform “…is entirely unique. You can build an experiment through a software interface, and then you can publish that to the online experiments platform. From there, it can go out and be made available to our entire user base or a subset of the user base, depending on the questions you want to answer. “

Neuroscience researchers are often restricted by:

  • Subject recruitment and testing costs
  • Lack of university facilities and equipment
  • Reduced participant compensation options
  • Optimized participant scheduling

Nikolas: “To that end, if you need hundreds of individuals, you’re talking about months and months of data collection to get through that. By distributing it out with a cloud-based platform, theoretically, you could have a hundred participants all taking the same experiment at the same time and work within your budget.”

As discussed in our earlier post on “Remote Data Collection Betters Neuroscience Research“, neuroscientists can struggle to recruit small numbers of participants, let alone hundreds of them. Subjects are recruited locally and then have to contribute their EEG data in a lab, which requires availability and favors accessibility over applicability.

This pressure has led to a lopsided representation of demographics in research via the use of American undergraduate students as research subjects. This use of university students has resulted in an oversaturation of western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) populations in neuroscience research. This overreliance has led to the misappropriation of treatment, therapies, and even laws in some marginalized communities.

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Factors Behind the Demand for Remote Deployment of Neuroscience Experiments

Increasing demand for diversity, representation and accurate generalizability of research results are three factors that pushed the demand for remote deployment of neuroscience.

The confluence of several limiting factors in social science and human subject research—the replication crisis, reproducibility problem and limited demographic diversity—had already brought remote research to the table as a necessary option. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and in-person data collection stopped.

Nikolas: “An early sign of change toward online experimental research data collection was the rapid interest and experimentation with MTurk in psychology and cognitive experiments. MTurk enabled rapid collection of large datasets in short timeframes, at affordable costs.”

Compared to MTurk, EmotivLABS is beyond the next generation. Built as a professional, research-grade platform for remote data collection, the EMOTIV team thoroughly considered the specific, day-to-day tasks researchers must perform not directly related to the science. This includes scheduling, training, and paying research participants for their contributions.

Bill: “EMOTIV ensures that researchers spend less time on administrative paperwork, reporting and logistical planning and more time for their science.”

EmotivLABS is explicitly developed for remote neural data collection and analysis, allowing scientists to focus on their work more creatively. EMOTIV’s full-stack approach of pairing their wireless EEG headsets with purpose-built graphical user interface software helps validate and confirm the signal’s integrity to the data pipeline.

Bill: “Take the task of signal marking. Essentially you are annotating the signal time series with markers that note what happened when. This is automatically performed within the one-stop-shop of EmotivLABS. If you go to a third-party data analysis environment, you’ve got to understand their conventions regarding signal marking. So now you are spending the entire day preparing the raw data just to be imported and properly understood by someone else’s software rather than reflecting on the actual results as they are.”

Much like Apple’s pairing of the iPhone with iOS, EMOTIV has built-in quality control and signal processing functionality under the hood, out of sight/out of mind to researchers and participants. Pushing those critical elements behind the scenes provides EmotivLABS users with easy-to-navigate and purposefully designed user interfaces. As a result, EMOTIV’s behavioral or neuroscience researchers can spend their time reflecting on the interpretation of experimental results rather than wrangling or massaging the raw data into something recognizable.

Get Started With EmotivLABS

Start at Any Research Level

EMOTIV’s approach to EEG research more closely reflects “real-world” conditions, as individuals being tested are in locations and environments that reflect how they live their lives.

Roshini: “There are no prerequisites or training needed to get started with EMOTIV devices and software. The builder is very user-friendly. Several neuromarketers use the headset and LABS platform related to advertising and product differentiation. Many don’t have experience with EEG but are able to start up with EMOTIV devices, learning tips and tricks as they go. It’s very user-friendly.”

Be as Creative as You or Your Team Would Like to Be

Nikolas: “We don’t have a lot of restrictions on what people would build as an experiment. They could build anything they want as an experiment but then publish it to the EmotivLABS platform. For a researcher’s test to begin, there has to be an informed-consent form for participants to read, so they do have to develop that. If they’re conducting it for a university, it’s required anyway because you have to have it publish anything from your results.”

EMOTIV reviews experiments to ensure requests to the general public are sensible and ethical. Overall, EMOTIV’s community moderators allow for freedom in research types. However, they do review experiments for quality-assurance purposes. Moreover, these quality checks allow EMOTIV developers to identify shortfalls in the current code base and incorporate new features in real-time based on interactive customer feedback.

Get a Customized Planning Help from EMOTIV

Founded in 2011, EMOTIV is a San Francisco-based bioinformatics company that aims to advance our understanding of the human brain using custom electroencephalography (EEG) hardware, analysis, and visualization. EMOTIV can also work with customers to ensure their experiments are compliant with regional and state-nation-based research guidelines.

Nikolas: “We do have a research-as-a-service team. If an agency wanted help conceptualizing their questions and designing experiments, building that experiment, and then deploying it, basically an end-to-end type of service, that service is available. […] We’re very responsive to the needs of our researchers who are building out experiments, so we facilitate and help them, assist them, and answer their questions.”

Eager to get started? Learn more about EmotivLABS.

Nikolas Willams

Senior Research Scientist at EMOTIV

Nik reviews and supports scientific integrity at EMOTIV. He designs experiments and analyzes data for EMOTIV research projects, the EMOTIVLabs platform, and data processing and analysis. He supports product feature development and works to facilitate flexible and innovative scientific methods.

Bill King

Director of Research Engineering at EMOTIV

Bill’s primary focus is developing Analyzer—EMOTIV’s EEG data analysis tool. Analyzer lets EmotivPRO user’s perform a number of EEG processing pipelines in the cloud. The types of analyses available include EEG preprocessing, band-power analysis and reports, and automatic event related potential (ERP) analysis. Analyzer ensures that raw sensor data collected from EMOTIV EEG hardware is research-grade, interoperable, and accessible to researchers on the cloud platform.

Roshini Randeniya

A research officer at EMOTIV

Roshini designs and conducts experiments to improve detections from EMOTIV’s portable EEG headsets. She is also involved in research projects evaluating data capture and analysis functionality.

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