Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making an EEG Electrode Adapter

My earlier post on making my own EEG electrodes was surprisingly popular.  Thanks, all!  But, for some folks, it might just be easier to purchase EEG electrodes off the shelf.  If you buy your electrodes, they're likely to come with connectors on the ends.  In order to use these electrodes with an OpenBCI board, you'll need to either cut the connectors off, or you'll need to make an adapter cable.  Since I tend to play with a variety of electrodes (both EEG and ECG) and since many types of electrodes use this same connector, I thought that it would be good to make an adapter.  This post is about how I made my adapter cable.  Here's what it looks like when I was done.


To make the adapter cable, you need the connectors that mate to the EEG electrode, you need some wires, and you need some connectors that mate to the OpenBCI board.

The OpenBCI board simply uses pin headers with a 0.1" spacing.  Therefore, for "connectors", you can use any of the inexpensive jumper wires that are used throughout the hobby world for connecting to Arduino.  For this adapter cable, you need female pin headers.  Adafruit sells a fine pack of 40 female/female jumper wires (P/N 266) for $6.95.  The 40 wires come with the connectors already attached.  The wires also come attached to each other as a ribbon cable, which is very convenient for keeping the cables in order.

Female/Female Jumper Wires from Adafruit
For the EEG electrodes, they usually use "touchproof" connectors.  This are simple singe-conductor connectors where the metal part is completely shrouded in plastic.  They are fairly standardized, though the diameter of the connection can vary between 1mm and 2mm.  All of my electrodes are 1.5mm.  The jacks that mate to these electrodes can be purchased from Plastics One.  Specially, I chose to buy the panel mount, front-loaded, threaded connectors (P/N 36145) shown in the pictures below.  When bought in small numbers, they're $3.14 each.  That's pricey!

Jacks for Touchproof Connectors.  From Plastics One.

The OpenBCI board has 11 connections that I might want to use.  So, I took the ribbon of 40 jumper wires and peeled off a single strip that contained 11 wires.  I then cut it in half to that one end had the female pin headers and the other end was just wire.

Then, I peeled apart the ends of the wire and stripped the ends.  As I prepared to solder on the touchproof jack, I slipped a piece of shrink tube over the end of the wire so that I could make it look nice when I was done.  I'm proud of myself for remembering to do the shrink tube.  I nearly always forget.  Not this time!

Preparing to solder the first jack.

After I soldered it on, I pulled the shrink tube up over the joint, applied some heat, and got a nice looking connection.

First jack is attached.  Nice use of shrink tube!
I then repeated the process for all the other wires that I was going to use.  Here's a picture of me soldering on the second jack.

Preparing to solder the second jack.

For my immediate testing, I did not need all 11 connections...I only needed four.  So, I only soldered on four jacks.  You can see my "completed" adapter cable assembly below.

My adapter cable with 4 connections.  I'll add the others when I need them.
Note that I added a piece of electrical tape around the ribbon cable to help keep it together.  I had overly separated one of the individual wires and it was threatening to come loose.  I little electrical tape saved the day!  And it makes it look fancy.

Using It

As you can tell by the photo at the top of this post, the adapter cable works great for interfacing OpenBCI to off-the-shelf electrodes.  I've used it with my EEG electrodes for follow-on measurements of my Mu-waves and with my ECG electrodes for checking my heart signals.  It's a great adapter cable to have in my EEG Hacker toolbox!

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