Brain Electrical Activity Mapping System

The concept of Brain Electrical Activity Mapping, (BEAM), was invented by Frank H. Duffy, M.D., of Childrens Hospital Medical Center, Boston, MA, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, and N. David Culver in the 1970's.

In simple terms, a BEAM system collects brain activity using the same techniques as conventional EEG, then applies computer analysis to markedly improve the usefulness of the information to the physician. Instead of the traditional EEG squiggles on chart paper, the system produces a color-coded graphic representation that is displayed as a stylized color image of the head on a CRT and hardcopy printouts on color printers. By using the same techniques with evoked potential technology, a color "movie" can be produced showing the electrical activity of the brain in response to a stimilus.

After years of laboratory experimentation and clinical trials, Braintech, Inc. was formed in 1982 to commercialize the BEAM technology. Bill Stewart, currently President of Helix Systems, Inc., was Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Braintech and had overall responsibility for development of the product as well as writing about sixty percent of the code.

The Braintech BEAM system was based on hardware from Masscomp (it has since been ported to other hardware). The hardware consisted of a 68000 based main processor, two 68000 based graphics subsystems (one color, one black & white), a Masscomp proprietary data acquisition computer, two Tektronix ink-jet color printers, a dedicated FFT processor, and a 32 channel EEG amplifier front end.

Software for the main computer was written in C and used the UNIX operating system. Software for the graphics subsystems and data aquisition subsytems was written in assembly language. The system was completed in one year by a team of three programmers, one of which was working part time.

The system posed many technical challenges. In addition to fighting many hardware and UNIX system software bugs from vendor Masscomp, drivers had to be written for the printers and FFT board, and the assembly lannguage code had to be developed for the graphics systems and data acquisition computer. The black & white graphics subsystem was the primary operator interface and had a Braintech integrated touch screen.

Braintech was sold to Nicolet Instrument Corp. of Madison, WI, in 1986, at which time Bill Stewart left to found Helix Systems, Inc.

Fortune magazine, in an article in the issue of March 28, 1988, picked the BEAM system as one of the 100 best made American products (along with such standards as Kodak film, Coca-Cola, Teflon, Xerox copiers, etc,).

Copyright© 2002 Helix Systems, Inc.