Time to Take Another Look At foc.us tDCS and more

History

About two years ago foc.us burst on the do-it-yourself tDCS scene with a headset marketed to “gamers” – claiming to offer improved game performance (higher scores).  A few folks like myself recognized the foc.us headset (V1) for what it was – a remarkable, capable tDCS device that could be used for ANY tDCS related purpose including treating depression, chronic pain, enhancing memory, etc. – and yes, improving game scores!  The V1 headset was truly a leap beyond anything else available to the DIY community offering an all-in-one headset that could be controlled via Bluetooth, offered built-on and external electrodes, all in a very nicely designed package.

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(Famous or infamous foc.us V1 ad campaign)

Critics quickly emerged, as they often do, describing customer relations related problems with foc.us – many justified, and technical issues with the product – many unjustified.  It seemed foc.us was surprised by their own success and unprepared for the order volume and normal support requirements of such a leading edge product. By the time foc.us got its organizational problems resolved, the V1 was winding down and the company was preparing to launch the V2.

The foc.us V2

Several months ago, Transcranial Ltd. launched it’s new foc.us tDCS product, the V2. It, like the V1, sets a  high bar for the DIY tDCS market. In a tiny package easily small enough to misplace with your car-keys, foc.us engineers included all of the technical features of the V1, plus the added versatility of upgradeable firmware (new features), display screen with scrollable selection, redesigned and industry leading headsets, the ability to use 3rd party headsets and related accessories, and more!

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(The foc.us V2. Tiny! Awesome!)

Interestingly, foc.us via their advertising, now seems to recognize the value of their technology for what it is, a real cranial stimulation device – not just for gamers – but for anyone seeking the benefits of tDCS and more.

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(
The V2 ad campaign is more general – making clearer the broad capabilities of the V2.)

Since my initial posting about the V2 (see http://bit.ly/1Jilfpg ) Transcranial Ltd. has upgraded the feature set of the V2 in significant ways!  The V2 now supports tDCS, tACS, tPCS, and tRNS as well an upgraded application for Android devices and soon iOS. The V2 can no longer be referred to as just a tDCS device – it’s now a fully capable, research grade, cranial stimulation device!

It’s a Software World Now!

If you purchase a V2 (or own one now), you may wish to update its firmware periodically to take advantage of new features.  Here are some key steps:

  1. Go to the foc.us web site and create an account: https://www.foc.us/customer/account/login/
  2. Log in with the account
  3. Connect your V2 doc to your capable PC (or Mac)
  4. On the left of your screen (once logged in), select “My Downloadable Products”
  5. Click the “Microsoft Software” (or Mac) download button and install
  6. Run the installed application and allow it to check and upgrade your V2 to the latest firmware

Apps

An Android app is available (search for wave tdcs in the store.) An iOS app for the V2 is due anytime (the old V1 app does not seem to work with the current V2 firmware.) I will say that the on-screen display of the foc.us V2 is so good and so versatile that I’m not convinced that the apps currently add much value. Transcranial Ltd. is soon to release a EEG capability called “Quantum” that will apparently link to the V2 – and will probably make the apps very functional and important to use.

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(foc.us Android app)

Anyway, you must pair the foc.us device to your Android or iOS device to use an app. Here are normal pairing procedures:

  1. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on on your Android or iOS device
  2. Turn on the foc.us V2 and scroll to Settings, Bluetooth, and make sure Bluetooth is On.
  3. Very quickly your handheld device should find the foc.us device and request you type in a code number that you will find displayed on the foc.us device. Do that and you are ready to go!
  4. Run the foc.us app, set the desired mode (tDCS, etc.), max voltage (20 is typically fine), current (1 to 2 mA), time (typically 20-25 minutes), sham should be off, and START

I’ve noticed that the Android app does not display remaining session time.  You can see it easily on the foc.us device by tapping the blue joystick.

More Detailed Instructions?

Like most tDCS vendors, Transcranial Ltd. is trying to stay off of the FDA’s radar by making it clear that they are not producing a medical device – so they shy away from writing application guides and notes. This frustrates some. Users are left to their own creativity to learn how to properly use and get full advantage from a foc.us device (V1 or V2). To help V1 headset users, I wrote a pretty detailed set of instructions ( see http://bit.ly/1FSf6wb ) that seem to be popular.  Would you like an equally detailed set of instructions for the V2? Let me know – if there is sufficient interest I’ll be happy to put that together.

Finally, I’ve taken a good bit of heat via email and blogs for being a fan of foc.us. Unlike some, I saw very early on that their unique product(s), if used correctly, could be used to improve the lives of many – and that has turned out to be true. Foc.us continues to be one of my favorites in the world of tDCS and cranial stimulation and I, for one, anxiously await their next DIY leading-edge products and the pace they set for the industry.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Brent

brent@speakwisdom.com

Notes:
1. Photos in this blog are from the internet and include images from foc.us and speakwisdom
2. If you are new to tDCS, please read and study carefully before taking any action related to tDCS or any cranial stimulation technology.  I suggest as a starting point:
a. speakwisdom.wordpress.com/tdcs/
b. diytdcs.com
c. www.reddit.com/r/tdcs
d. http://www.pubmed.gov (search for tDCS)

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Interview: JD Leadam, Neurolectrics

Here’s a chance to meet the founder and CEO of Neurolectrics – the creator of the BrainStimulator and the BrainStimulator Travel Model.  JD is a true pioneer in the DIY tDCS field and I hope you will find this podcast to be interesting and informative.

Click HERE to listen or download the mp3.  Total length is about 27 minutes, 12.5 MB

JD’s web site is HERE

Enjoy!

Travel Model Advanced 2x2 Kit - Unplugged_NEW

Using the foc.us V2 with the Gamer or Your Own Electrodes

Introduction

In part 1 of my series on the new foc.us V2 tDCS device, I introduced the basic components of the V2 as well as its user interface. I continue to be pleased with the V2 as a user and want to pass along some ideas related to electrode use.

The foc.us Gamer Headset

Foc.us offers two headsets for the V2, the Edge and the Gamer. The EDGE is a special purpose headset designed to facilitate experimentation and research on the use of tDCS to improve athletic ability. As I mentioned in the last post, this is an area of tDCS that is ripe for exploration. A few studies have already been posted that hint at possible uses for tDCS and improvements in physical ability. This will be a very interesting application of tDCS to watch as results from various tests are posted. The EDGE headset is not a general-purpose tDCS headset and should NOT be selected by most users.

The GAMER headset is a more versatile headset for the new or experienced tDCS user. It is made up of a flexible metal band and two electrodes that attach to the band. It is highly adjustable for head-size and comfort. “Out of the box” it is designed to allow stimulation of the pre-frontal cortex, an area associated with memory, learning, etc. It happens that the electrodes of the GAMER can be used independent of the included band – allowing electrode positioning for “savant learning”, treatment of chronic pain, depression, etc. Note: the electrode plainly marked “Left” on the inside of the sponge frame is the anode (+) and the electrode marked “Right” is the cathode (-).

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(The Gamer headset.  Best choice for most.)

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(The Gamer headset in its case.)

 

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(The Gamer on my “test head”. Note electrodes are positions over the pre-frontal area.)

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(You can use the Gamer electrodes without the supplied metal band and place them where you want. Here I’ve used an elastic band to position the electrodes for “savant learning”.)

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(Here is another example with the electrodes positioned to treat chronic pain. In this example, the cathode would be placed on the upper arm or shoulder with another band.)

UPDATE – March 2015

foc.us has updated the firmware on the V2 so that the resistor that tells the tDCS module which headset is connected is no longer needed.  FURTHER – they are also released a patch cable to make attaching 3rd party electrodes even easier. See (  http://www.foc.us/tdcs-tens-cable-adaptor ).  The text below is left for historical reference only.

Using Your Own Electrodes (Amrex)

If you are pretty good with a soldering iron you can easily adapt any electrodes you prefer for use with the foc.us V2. The jack on the V2 tDCS device is a four conductor, 2.5 mm type that has been used on some cell-phones and portable audio gear. Connect your electrodes to a four conductor, 2.5 mm plug and a small resistor and away you go!

Plug Wiring

Tip and Ring 1 – a resistor across these two tells the tDCS device the model of headset connected. (300 ohms for the Edge, and 2,000 ohms for the Gamer by my measurements)
Ring 2 – Cathode connection (-)
Ring 3 – Anode connection (+)

To test this, I used a small RadioShack proto-board and broke out the 4 conductors for easy investigation and tinkering. I used a 100 and 200 ohm resistor in series to get the 300 ohms needed to let the V2 “think” I am connecting an Edge headset, even though I use popular Amrex 3x3s. Actually it seems not to matter whether the V2 thinks an Edge or Gamer is connected – you can still set all the desired tDCS treatment times and current levels.

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(Note the four conductor plug. It is broken out on the proto-board with T, 1, 2, 3 as described above. I use this example with Amrex 3×3 electrodes.)

Perhaps in future firmware, foc.us will include special features for 3rd party headsets that use a different resistance identifier.
BTW Soldering wires to a four conductor, 2.5 mm plug is not for the faint of heart. It’s very easy to short contacts and generally make a mess. I suggest buying a pre-wired 2.5 mm plug from Parts Express (or similar). Their part number is 090-504.

Summary

So there you have it. I suggest that you either buy the foc.us GAMER headset with your V2 and use it as is or with your own headband as I have shown above – or do your own thing with a 4 conductor plug and whatever electrodes you prefer.

Please feel free to send along comments and suggestions related to this post or a future one you would like to see.

The NEW foc.us V2 tDCS Device and Headsets, Part 1

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(The tiny V2 module is now the core of the foc.us tDCS product line.)

Introduction

Once again, foc.us has distanced itself from the rest of the tDCS device pack. If you are in the market for an innovative tDCS device that is sophisticated and simple to use, I think you will be very pleased with the foc.us V2. tDCS is all about delivering a tiny current to the brain in order to improve it or provide relief from a brain-related condition. Here is a way to do it with a cool device that works well!

Enter foc.us

The first foc.us headset moved the bar on tDCS devices by offering a huge feature set (built-on or external electrodes, wearable, Bluetooth support, iOS app, etc.), and a moderate price. I don’t have any sales data on the foc.us V1 headset, but I’ll guess foc.us sold more than a few.  I happen to own more than one and use them often. I’ve also helped many others achieve tDCS success with the foc.us v1.

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(The foc.us V1. Slick. Innovative.)

As a radically new design from a brand-new start-up, the foc.us V1 was not without its problems or detractors. There were production problems, support problems, unpolished features and more – that for some made it hard to see the real core value of the headset as a tDCS treatment device. But given how far foc.us pushed the DIY tDCS market, those of us who really learned how to use the headset were (and are) thrilled to have it.

The foc.us V2

foc.us did not stand still though. Based on experience with the v1, user input, and their own vision of what tDCS could become, the foc.us v2 tDCS device and accessories have been created and are now moving toward distribution.  The new device has three basic parts of which the buyer can purchase as desired.

  1. foc.us V2 tDCS Device – REQUIRED (does the work of producing the tiny DC current used in tDCS.)
  2. Gamer Headset (plugs into the V2 device. Electrodes positioned for stimulating certain types of learning)
  3. EDGE Headset (Plugs into the V2 device. Electrodes positioned to possibly enhance athletic performance.)

The V2 tDCS device itself is now a tiny module not much bigger than some USB flash-keys.  It is programmable, has a graphical display, a joy-stick like control for selection of desired tDCS parameters, and is rechargeable and updateable (firmware) via a USB base.

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(As expected from foc.us, innovative design and nice packaging.)

The Gamer headset is a flexible band with two electrodes designed to reach the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain – an area thought to respond nicely to tDCS for improvement in some types of thinking and learning (concentration, planning, judgment, etc.)

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(The new foc.us Gamer headset. Bigger sponges, very comfortable. Shown on my “test head”. There are better photos at www.foc.us)

The EDGE headset represents new ground for a commercial tDCS device.  Many of us have wondered how long it would take the world of athletics to discover tDCS and the potential it holds for improving performance in many competitive and non-competitive sports.  To that end, foc.us offers the EDGE headset designed to place the anode in the area of the premotor cortex (coordinates complex movements) and the cathode on the upper arm.  Much research and experimentation in this realm of tDCS is needed, but suffice it to say that one day the top performers on your favorite sports team may be using tDCS during at least some of their training.

IMG_1556
(foc.us calls attention to the possibilities for athletic improvements via tDCS and the EDGE headset. Shown on my test head. Foc.us headset sponge-sockets are now nickel plated – instead of copper as in the v1. Better images are at www.foc.us)

Operation

I was fortunate enough to have received a foc.us V2 at the beginning of December, 2014, with an early firmware and feature set. Suffice it to say that, even in its early form, it performs well and is very easy to use.

Using the V2 is simple: Unpack the V2 tDCS device and place it on the USB charger for an hour or two to fully charge. Meanwhile, remove two sponges from the sealed envelope supplied with your foc.us headset, wet them a bit (saline if you prefer), and place them in the sponge sockets (or use your own electrodes and headband as described in the next blog post.)

With the headset in place and plugged into the V2 device, press the blue joystick on the v2 tDCS device to activate it.  Then simply step through the prompts to setup your tDCS session parameters.

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(The display is easy to read. Duration and current are easily changed.)

Your tDCS session will begin with a short ramp-up time and then a count-down of the session time remaining. Actual current delivered is displayed and graphed.  You can press on the joystick at any time to immediately end a session.

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(Prompts are simple and clear.)

For you techie folks: Note that the foc.us V2 does contain a boost circuit to overcome electrode and skin resistance – as do many commercial tDCS devices.  I measured a peak of 56 volts as the V2 tried to compensate for my high-impedance load test and deliver the selected current level.  At no time was I ever able to exceed the current level I had programmed on the V2 device.

A Few of the Many Enhancements Over the foc.us V1

  1. Very small, portable, tDCS device. You could easily Velcro it into your cap or just put it in your pocket. It is easily programmed for desired tDCS settings.
  2. foc.us electrode sponges are much larger (and better quality) than with the v1 for better current distribution
  3. More comfortable headsets
  4. Can be used with foc.us, 3rd party, or user provided headsets and electrodes

Concerns

  1. Three or four tDCS sessions seems sufficient to drain the battery in the early production device. I think it will be a good habit to put the V2 device on its charger when not in use.
  2. There were complaints that foc.us seemed overwhelmed when the v1 was released about two years ago – leading to spotty technical support and order-issue resolution problems. Has foc.us learned from the V1 experience?
  3. The V1 IOS app never seemed to reach a solid feature completion. It works – but… Will the V2 app be better? foc.us says it will.  They have a new programming team and will release a new app for the V1 and V2 in the January/February timeframe.  But to be clear, you DO NOT need an app to use the V2 very effectively.

Overall Impressions

I’m very pleased with my early copy of the V2.  It works well, is tiny, easy to use, and produces clean, predictable output.  The new foc.us headsets are innovative and comfortable. The V2 represents a nice step forward for foc.us and for the DIY tDCS community. I look forward to continued development of the V2, firmware, apps, and 3rd party add-ons that are likely to come.

Pricing

Pricing is about the same as with the V1 (it was about $250 plus $50 for a needed accessory kit.) The V2 is $199 for the tDCS module. foc.us supplied headsets are priced at $99.  A pack of 12 foc.us sponges is $5. You are free to use 3rd party or your own electrodes if you prefer (details in my next post.) See www.foc.us for ordering details.

Bottom Line

The foc.us V2 is clearly more sophisticated and better designed than the typical tDCS device in the market right now.  Yes, it costs more than entry-level devices – but as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.  If you are serious about tDCS for yourself or someone you know, the foc.us V2 deserves your consideration.

Brent Williams, PhD
http://www.speakwisdom.com

Coming at www.speakwisdom.com

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll post a number of articles about the foc.us V2, use, applications, and more.  Feel free to contact me with your questions and comments via brent@speakwisdom.com

IMG_1549
(My crude but effective breakout of the new V2 four conductor plug. Yes, you can use Amrex and other electrodes.)

How the WHO Could REALLY Reduce the Global Suicide Rate 

Introduction

In September, 2014, the World Health Organization (part of the UN) released a report indicating that over 800,000 people, world-wide, commit suicide every year.  That means about one person every 40 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, tragically ends their life.  Reasons and methods vary greatly, of course, but certainly the most significant contributor to the suicide rate is the epidemic of depression. In the United States, about 40,000 people commit suicide every year – again most as a result of depression.

By the way, gathering suicide data is difficult because many suicides go unreported or countries simply don’t collect suicide data – or don’t do it effectively. So if anything, the 800,000 number is, perhaps, a dramatic understatement.

In the same report, WHO indicates they are “committed” to reducing the global suicide rate by a whopping 10% by 2020.  How they plan to accomplish even this anemic goal given the status-quo of diagnosis and methods of treatment is a mystery. Without an aggressive approach, using new technologies that could be widely employed in developed and underdeveloped areas – the WHO goal is meaningless. Part of the problem is that the current medications typically used to treat depression are expensive, not readily available in some locations, may need to be taken for a lifetime, and have side-effects (some serious) that can discourage use.

Enter tDCS

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a simple technology that has been shown to reduce or eliminate depression in many individuals. Treatment involves using a tDCS device for about 30 minutes a day for 30 to 60 days with an occasional follow-up treatment as needed. It also happens that tDCS is safe and easy to administer.   A tDCS device is very simple to construct using readily available components – for perhaps $10 to $20 dollars – much less than the cost of a single month of anti-depressant pills.

For a relatively small investment by the WHO, millions of tDCS devices could be built and distributed world-wide. In day long sessions, doctors, counselors, and other professionals (including an army of volunteers) could be trained to identify, screen, and treat depressive persons. The training could even be conducted over Skype, Google Hangout, or similar means, eliminating the cost and complexity of travel in certain areas. Once trained, the important work of markedly reducing the world-wide suicide rate – by identifying persons in need, teaching them how to treat themselves, and following up as needed to assure positive progress – could begin.

A Simple World-Changer tDCS Device

Below are images of a simple tDCS device that could be cheaply constructed and made widely available to trained professionals and volunteers. I purposely built the device components into a pill-bottle to drive home the point that a tDCS device can be small, cheap to build, and replace expensive, side-effect laden pills for many depression sufferers.

IMG_1440
The major components of this tDCS device (above) include a 9-volt battery, two one milliamp current limiting diodes, a pill-bottle for a case, two electrodes to place on the head, and a headband. This design uses two CRDs in series to make the device nearly failure-proof. Should one CRD fail, the second continues to limit treatment current to one milliamp. The CRDs are at the bottom of the picture, shown just before covering them with heat-shrink tubing.

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The completed tDCS device is shown with my “test-head” (above), complete with electrodes and a head-band. The tDCS device was constructed in about 30 minutes. Total cost for the tDCS device and wires was about $5. The cost of electrodes varies from about $1 dollar up to $30 dollars depending on the type selected and the supplier. A mass-produced equivalent of this setup could be used prevent thousands of suicide deaths every year – each device, electrodes, and headband costing less than a months supply of anti-depressant pills. Are you paying attention WHO?

Helpful References

If you are new to tDCS, may I suggest you at least examine the below:

1. www.speakwisdom.com

2. www.diytdcs.com

3. www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com

4. www.pubmed.gov (search for tDCS)

The Cognitive Kit, Stealth tDCS

tDCS Takes Off

It’s been amazing to watch the growth of interest in transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the last couple of years.  tDCS has moved from the obscurity of research center studies to a much wider audience via articles in the likes of Scientific American, the New York Times, Wired Magazine, assorted radio and TV bits, and of course the internet.

Many more people are at least peripherally aware that tDCS can help with depression, chronic pain, memory, learning, and more. Affordable tDCS devices have also become more available meaning fewer do-it-yourself types have to build their own.

At the lowest price are bare-bones 2 mA tDCS devices from www.tdcs-kit.com for less than $40 and a current-selectable unit from www.thebrainstimulator.net for less than $100.  Of course there are many tDCS devices at the opposite end of the spectrum that cost many hundreds to thousands of dollars.  But all accomplish the same task – providing a very small, regulated current to electrodes that are placed on the scalp in order to achieve a desired tDCS effect.

The Cognitive Kit

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(The Cognitive Kit with my “test head”.  The test head allows me to simulate various montages, take measurements, scope wave-forms, etc.)

A new entry to the tDCS market has arrived and I have been fortunate to be able to review an early sample.  Human Bioelectric ( www.cognitivekit.com ) has released a new model, The Cognitive Kit, meant to target the higher end of the entry level market.  The Cognitive Kit is a current selectable tDCS device that comes with Amrex electrodes (the most popular choice of professional and advanced DIY tDCS users), a headband and use instructions. The unit is well built and likely to attract attention due to it’s stealth approach to packaging (no labels or anything that identifies what it is).  You can bet the TSA folks will want check it and have you to turn it on if you fly somewhere with it!

Human Bioelectric does not provide montage or medical advice. As with most DIY tDCS device suppliers, they leave it up to you to do your homework to decide which tDCS montage is right for you.  I presume all do this to keep themselves off of the FDA radar screen.

Physical

The Cognitive Kit is a slim package somewhat larger than a typical smartphone. There is an on-off slide switch on the side of the case and a current selector slide-switch and session start-stop push-button on top.  There is also an LED indicator for power and session in progress LED. The Cognitive Kit does not include a session timer (typical of devices in this price class).

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(What is it? What are all the switches and lights for? The Cognitive Kit, Stealth tDCS)

Inside the box is a very nicely laid-out PC board containing all the major components.  The Cognitive Kit uses an LM234 (functionally identical to the LM334) for current regulation, coupled to a group of resistors and a selector switch that program the LM234 to limit current to 1, 1.5, or 2 mA depending on switch position. This is a very tried and tested design that should prove to be highly reliable and safe for many years of use.

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(Neat and solid construction.  Should last for years.)

The Cognitive Kit uses two 9 volt batteries in series to supply 18 volts to the regulator board.  Why 18 volts instead of the 9 volts that some use?  One of the chief difficulties of a tDCS device is overcoming the highly variable resistance encountered depending on the position of the electrodes on the scalp, how wet they are, whether salt has been used, or if some other type of electrode is being use that has higher resistance (stick-on type for example).  In some cases 9 volt powered tDCS devices have a difficult time achieving 2 mA, or even 1 or 1.5 mA in a tDCS session because the lower voltage cannot overcome resistance in the “head circuit”.  The higher source voltage of  the Cognitive Kit helps overcome electrode, hair, skin, etc. resistance so it can more reliably deliver the selected current level. This is exactly the idea behind the “boost” circuits used in more expensive tDCS devices (and professional models) that boost the regulated voltage to 60 or 80 volts – and why some users of higher-end tDCS devices have received a frightening shock when they inadvertently pulled off electrodes during a tDCS session.

Using a lower voltage (9, 12, or 18), makes the tDCS device circuit much simpler to build, probably more reliable in the long-run, and eliminates the possibility of a high voltage shock.

Interestingly, Human Bioelectric claims that the Cognitive Kit has a built-in failure-mode current limit of 6 mA (for 2 k-Ohms of head resistance). In a device failure, 6 mA would be VERY uncomfortable, causing any user to immediately switch off the device or rip off the electrodes. According to what I’ve read, that current level would not do any damage in the brief time a user could tolerate it!

In Use

I set up the Cognitive Kit for several different common montages used in tDCS and found it to reliably deliver the selected current level and to be easy to use.

Procedure

  • Wet electrodes (slightly saline water). Squeeze out excess water.
  • Place the electrodes in desired locations using a headband to hold them in place.
  • Turn on the Cognitive Kit (slide switch on side)
  • Select desired current level (slide switch on top)
  • Press button (on top) to Start tDCS session
  • Manually time 20 minute session
  • Press button (on top) to Stop tDCS session, switch off the Cognitive Kit
  • Remove electrodes from head (clean sponges as needed)

The montage for “savant learning”, for example, involves placing the anode (+) on the right temple and the cathode (-) on the left temple.  Doing that I found (about 4 k-Ohms of head resistance):

  • Switch set for 1 mA, I measured a current of 0.99 mA
  • Switch set for 1.5 mA, I measured a current of 1.53 mA
  • Switch set for 2.0 mA, I measured a current of 2.01 mA

These numbers show excellent regulation and were reliable with different montages.

One feature that all of the less expensive tDCS devices lack is a slow ramp-up, ramp-down circuit.  When you start a tDCS session, the Cognitive Kit current very quickly goes from zero to your selected level – delayed slightly by how long it takes water to saturate your skin and provide a good conductive path.  Because of this, you may see a weak phosphene (flash of light) as a tDCS session starts or ends. This can seem strange, but all the literature I’ve read indicates that phosphenes are harmless.

What I Like

  • Simple device, very easy to use
  • Low voltage so no possibility of a 60 or 80 volt shock
  • Rugged PC board design – should last many years
  • Amrex 3×3 sponges and headband included
  • Current limited in failure

What Could Use Improvement

  • Labeling the case would be useful and improve appearance (though some may prefer the stealth look)
  • LED brightness is very high (nit picking)
  • You must remove four screws on the back to replace batteries
  • I still love having a mA meter on a tDCS device – it’s an assurance

Final Comments

The Cognitive Kit sells for about $200 and comes complete with Amrex sponge electrodes, headband, connecting wires, and instructions.  Some may question the price, and yes, the Cognitive Kit could be sold for less if it were less solidly built and did not include Amrex 3×3 electrodes. A solid build is worth something and if you are serious about tDCS, no matter what tDCS device you buy, sooner or later you’ll be buying Amrex 3×3’s. They are not cheap! The Cognitive Kit and Amrex 3×3 combination should last you for years if taken care of. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for”.

Operationally, the Cognitive Kit does what Human Bioelectric claims: it delivers well regulated current at 1, 1.5, or 2 mA.  If you are shopping for a tDCS device, the Cognitive Kit deserves consideration.

 

THE ROADMAP TO tDCS SUCCESS

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a relatively new technology for treating illnesses like depression, chronic pain (and more) and for enhancing memory, creativity, and various kinds of learning. tDCS is simple, safe (according to current studies), and involves equipment and techniques that are available to almost anyone willing to put in the effort required to learn to use it correctly.

This article is designed to provide a roadmap to successful and safe use of tDCS and so points to a number of references that should be reviewed before any attempt at using tDCS is made. If you will carefully examine the items listed below, you will be much better informed as you make decisions about tDCS and its appropriateness for you and your situation.

1. What is tDCS and How Does it Work?

If you want to understand tDCS and what it is all about, you have to dig a little.

Start with the basics: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/can-a-9-volt-battery-save-a-life-even-yours/

Please watch this video:
Prof. Vince Clark from UC Davis tDCS Summit 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUMUIXNeBRQ

Then read this article (it’s a bit dense, but get what you can):
Transcranial DC Stimulation by Dave Siever, CET: https://www.mindalive.com/1_0/article%2011.pdf

You should also review these safety standards:
tDCS Safety Standards: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/diy-tdcs-code-of-safety/

2. Pick a tDCS Device

You have two choices – either build your own tDCS device or buy a commercial unit.

Build it Yourself

000_0031

A Simple tDCS Design: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/a-very-simple-current-regulated-tdcs-device/

Or a little more sophisticated device: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/user-built-tdcs-research-device/

Buy a tDCS Device

Very Simple, Inexpensive: www.tdcs-kit.com (review at http://www.speakwisdom.com )

Also simple and inexpensive: http://thebrainstimulator.net/

The foc.us headset is sophisticated and capable: www.foc.us (I have a series of review articles on the foc.us headset at http://www.speakwisdom.com.)

IMG_4662

Another very capable tDCS Device: www.trans-cranial.com

The ActivaDose II is very popular. Technically it is an iontophoresis device but can be used for tDCS: http://www.scriphessco.com/products/activa-activadose-ii-iontophoresis-device/

activadoseII
Electrodes

Look carefully at the electrodes that are (or are not) supplied with the tDCS device you purchase. The foc.us headset, for example, includes electrode sponges and is ready to go. Other suppliers provide stick-on electrodes which are generally not preferred. Most tDCS users and researchers have adopted reusable 3×3 sponge electrodes as a starting point. Amrex is a popular brand and is sold widely (including on Amazon.com). The Amrex sponges use a “banana” plug for connection. As such, you may need an adapter to go from your tDCS device to the Amrex sponges. Most medical suppliers carry adapters (www.scriphessco.com for example) or your tDCS device supplier may have them.

amrex3x3

3. USING A tDCS DEVICE

As already mentioned, tDCS can be used to treat an assortment of illnesses or can be used to speed learning, improve memory, enhance creativity and more. Check these links for information on the “montage” that best suits your needs.

General Electrode Placement: http://www.jove.com/video/2744/electrode-positioning-montage-transcranial-direct-current

General Electrode Placements for learning, memory, depression, savant learning, and chronic pain: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-foc-us-tdcs-headset-review-part-4-electrode-placements/

Depression: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/area-25-is-way-more-important-than-area-51/

Depression: https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/4-inthe-youtube-series-treating-depression-with-tdcs/

Researchers generally start with a treatment time of 20 minutes once per day for up to five days per week. A current level of 1 mA is suggested while you adapt to the scalp tingle that tDCS may create. 2 mA is generally too high for beginners and can cause considerable discomfort.

Depression Montage

4. FINAL NOTES

tDCS is a new and developing area of research. You should use due caution when attempting anything related to tDCS. Better, seek out a medical professional for tDCS guidance and assistance. In Atlanta, www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com is a great resource. You should also monitor multiple tDCS information resources such as www.pubmed.gov (search for tDCS), www.diytdcs.com, www.reddit.com/r/tDCS/ , and Google.

I hope you find the information contained in this article useful and will visit all of the postings I have on http://www.speakwisdom.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Yea! The new app for the foc.us tDCS headset has arrived!

After a long, long wait, we finally have a working iOS app to control the foc.us tDCS headset.  While still needing some polish, the app released in January of 2014 gets the job done, allowing control of current, duration and treatment type.

IMG_0952
(foc.us app, ver. 2)

To get started, you need an iPhone 4s or later or and iPad 3 or later using iOS 7.  Given those conditions, go to the App Store, search for foc.us and you should have no trouble locating and installing the app.  Then the fun begins!

First – be aware that though this is version 2.0 of the foc.us app, think of it as a 0.99 version. It works, but has much polish and stability to be added yet.  You will struggle with it a bit, but once you get the hang of it, you will find it usable in accessing the features of the foc.us headset. As foc.us adds some polish, this should become the app we’ve all been waiting for!

Getting Connected

Make sure your foc.us headset is charged and ready to go and that Bluetooth is enabled on your iOS device.

To Connect:

  1. Start the foc.us app
  2. Place your headset in “Ready” mode by touching the touch-button for three or four seconds.  It should buzz and the blue foc.us logo should blink.
  3. Touch “Bluetooth” at the bottom of the app screen.  The headset should show in the list of available Bluetooth devices as “foc.us gamer”.  Touch “Connect”. Note – if you take too long, the headset may drop out of “Ready” mode.

IMG_0953
(App and headset connected)

  1. Touch the “Current” circle and move the slider to the desired current level.  If you are new at all of this, I suggest 1.0 mA. Touch “Change” to confirm.

IMG_0955
(Setting the current level in the app)

  1. Touch the “Duration” circle and move the slider as desired.  Normally, tDCS sessions are 20 minutes (in research anyway.) Touch “Change” to confirm.
  2. Touch “Mode”.  Unless you have a specific research reason to do otherwise, I’d pick “Continuous” – that is tDCS.

IMG_0954
(Pick Continuous for tDCS)

Once the above selections are made, the tDCS session should start immediately.

If your tDCS session does NOT start immediately, the app and your headset have probably lost contact with each other (even though the Bluetooth screen shows otherwise). I suggest closing the foc.us app (double-click home on your iOS device, and flick the foc.us app UP to close it).  START OVER at step 1 above.

During the tDCS session, the “Duration” will count down minute by minute.  At the end of the session there is a brief “buzz” from the headset to let you know the session is complete.

IMG_0959
(
Duration counts down as session progresses)

Oddities

  1. The app and the headset seem to lose sync with each other if you delay too long in making selections, cancel a session, or do much other than the steps I show above. (Remember it’s really a 0.99 release.)
  2. The duration reads “00” during the last 59 seconds of a session.

Update to my Free Guide to using the foc.us headset

I’ll be adding these instructions and more to my free guide in the next few days. I’d appreciate any input you have as the objective is to help headset users get the most from the product. The button to download the free guide is on the right side of my main blog page.

Thoughts on the Use of tDCS in Education Settings

Why the Interest in tDCS?

Research studies and anecdotal evidence show that tDCS, a simple and safe way to stimulate the brain, does have the ability to enhance memory, speed learning, improve physical skill, and enhance creativity.  There are now well over 1,000 published studies of tDCS with more underway and research participation of institutions ranging from Harvard Medical, MIT, Emory University, to the University of Alabama and dozens more.


(tDCS headset. http://www.foc.us)

Already, high-school and college students are catching on to just what tDCS may do for them.  There are many YouTube and blog posts from and by students discussing their experience with tDCS and others asking for help in setting up and using a tDCS device.  Some indicate substantial improvement in their performance with tDCS. As tDCS devices become more accessible and word of it continues to spread through popular press and internet resources (NYT, Nature, Scientific American and many others have already published tDCS articles), educators can eventually expect to be confronted with some significant ethical and policy questions.

While it’s difficult to pin-down an exact percentage improvement students see in their work, (more studies are required), students use words like “significant”, “substantial”, and “surprising” in their comments. As time goes on, not only will more students demand access to tDCS, it is likely that parents, seeking greater success for their children, will encourage its use.

How Might tDCS Be Used by Students

  • During study for tests – including high-stakes (SAT, etc.)
  • Learning lists of material (names, dates, places, events, etc.)
  • Learning new languages (spoken and written)
  • Improving athletic skill
  • Enhancing creativity in writing, art, film production, etc.
  • To reduce or eliminate depression (a common problem in student populations)

Ethical Issues

Educators must face the reality that certain students will “brain boost” using tDCS and by doing so, improve their classroom performance as well as on assorted tests that are common in education settings. Even “high-stakes” test outcome could be positively influenced for students making proper use of tDCS. Student athletes may use tDCS to improve their performance on the tennis court or football field.

  • If a student using tDCS for study can perform 10% better on an SAT test than an equally talented student who does not possess a tDCS device, is there a fairness or ethical issue?
  • If a student has a learning disability and through the use of tDCS is able to perform at “non-disability” levels, is there a fairness or ethical issue?
  • Will we now enter a new era of “haves and have not’s” in K-12 and higher-education learning?
  • Will students from middle-class and above families, able to afford a device and related training, take advantage of it while lower income, less advantaged students will go without?

If tDCS, well used, can improve test scores, is that not ultimately going to be very significant in the lives of some students?


(George Mason University)

Policy Questions

If tDCS is going to play some role in the lives of K-12 and higher ed students in the coming years, then perhaps it’s time to begin creating policy to address tDCS – including:

  1. Will tDCS use be permitted (even though it will be impossible to regulate home use)?
  2. Will students be trained in proper tDCS use in school? (or after school)
  3. Will schools provide tDCS devices for students when the family cannot afford it?
  4. Will schools encourage tDCS as a means to improve test scores?
  5. Will school clinics offer tDCS treatments for those suffering with depression (rather than medicate them?)
  6. Will legal liability issues limit the ability of schools to responsibly encourage and direct the use of tDCS in education settings?

tDCS is a wonderful thing! It has the potential to help the human condition on so many levels – from depression to Parkinson’s disease, with learning enhancements thrown in as a bonus. How will we, as educators, respond to this fascinating new capability – which students have already discovered?

Let the dialog begin!

Contact me via brent@speakwisdom.com

For more information on tDCS see www.speakwisdom.com, http://www.diytdcs.com, http://www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com, http://www.pubmed.gov, and Google!

A $7 Usability Improvement for the tDCS-Kit.com Device

I recently reviewed the tDCS-Kit.com devices and found them to be useful but “bare-bones”.  For about $40 you get a current regulated tDCS device that puts out a max of about 2 mA. ( See https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/product-review-tdcs-kit-com-tdcs-devices/ ) While I’m not a fan of the USB version, the 9-volt battery version deserves consideration. Being “bare-bones”, the device is a bit harsh on start-up and shutdown and offers no control of the current delivered other than the 2 mA limit.

I constantly receive emails and messages from folks from all over the world complaining that they cannot afford the $250 (or more) the more sophisticated tDCS devices cost. Yet they are desperate for help with depression, chronic pain, etc.  So the price of the tDCS-kit.com device is attractive – it provides a serviceable tDCS device at a very low cost.


(tDCS-Kit.com Device)

With a very simple modification, the tDCS-kit.com device can have current control! That means you can start and end a tDCS session by ramping current  up and down in a comfortable way – and limiting current at a desired level (say 1 or 1.5 mA.)

Here is what you need:
1. 5 k-Ohm linear potentiometer RS part 271-1714 $3.49
1. Project box RS part 270-1801 $3.49
1. Knob from your junk box or other source

You also need the ability (or have a friend) who can do some basic soldering.

Simply put, the potentiometer will be connected ACROSS the anode and cathode lead from the tDCS-kit.com device. It will act as an adjustable alternate pathway for current so that not all of the  2 mA from the tDCS device will pass through your head. Along the way, you may want to replace the “pin” style connectors with alligator clips (my preference) or banana plugs.

Adjustable current for the tDCS-kit device
(Simple diagram of the mod to the the tDCS-Kit.com device.)

Inside Current Control for tDCS-Kit device
(I put the potentiometer in a little project box. Note that I clipped the pin connectors off and soldered the red-striped lead to the center of the potentiometer.  The red anode lead to the electrode also goes there. The black cathode leads are soldered to the bottom terminal of the potentiometer.)

Current control box for tDCS-kit device
(Complete! tDCS-Kit module is at the left. Leads to electrodes appear at the right.)

May I suggest you also spend a little money and buy a digital multi-meter (many for $10 or less.) You will need that to monitor the current level you are using for your tDCS session. The multi-meter is set to read current and is placed in series with the red (anode) lead and connects to that electrode. With the modification shown above, you can vary current up to the max of 2 mA that the device will deliver.

Warning: Disconnect the battery when not using the device as there will always be a load present.

I think you will find this simple modification makes the tDCS-Kit.com device far more versatile and comfortable to use.

As with any DIY tDCS project, you are responsible for your own actions and safety. If you are not sure what you are doing STOP and get help from a professional and/or read, read, read about tDCS.