“Using the headset, I was able to manoeuvre a car across a short racetrack just by imagining the car moving in my brain. What what whaaaaat?!?!” wrote Mike Chan in his blog entry on the three most impressive products he interacted with at CES 2015.
“First, after putting the headset on, the Emotiv employee captured my brain activity at baseline – when I was thinking about nothing. Then he captured my brain activity when thinking about the car moving along the track. After the setup, I was ready to roll. When the Emotiv employee said ‘Go!’ I concentrated on the image of the car moving, and then it moved. Mind…blown.”
And Chan wasn’t the only one who commented on Emotiv Insight, the new consumer device which “records your brainwaves and translates them into meaningful data you can understand”.
“Emotiv Insight headset gives you Jedi powers,” wrote Cherlynn Low in Tom’s Guide while on a slightly odder note, Brain scientist DJ Jacques Lavoisier used ‘crowd brainwaves’ during music events at the World Economic Forum to “change the atmosphere” in the venue.
At the moment the uses for EEG headsets are still pretty inane. But this is all just the tip of the iceberg. And the whole industry of wearable brain headset, ‘Brainwear’, ‘Telepathic Tech’ and brain data analysis looks likely to explode with uses in healthcare, wellness, gaming, marketing and beyond.
The recession “froze many of our partners’ R&D and Engineering budgets and shelved some of the projects that they had envisioned,” explains to Greg Hyver GM of the Mind Business at NeuroSky. “As we emerge from the recession, the industry has been gaining momentum again and we should begin to start seeing a new generation of our partners’ products hitting store shelves in 2015.”
Along with Emotive, NeuroSky is one of the biggest players in the space. In fact many of the consumer ‘Telepathic Tech’ products you see on the market – Mattel Mindflex, Uncle Milton Force Trainer, Neurowear Necomimi – are actually enabled by NeuroSky’s EEG biosensor chip.
“An important piece missing from the wearable technology and quantified-self movements are an effective way to capture someone’s mental data as they go about their day,” explains Hyver. “We have some visionary partners who are at the forefront of this movement, including MindRider, which has built our technology into bicycle helmets to map the mental responses of riders in downtown Manhattan in order to map out the most relaxing routes around the city.”
Another interesting partner of NeuroSky’s is the Technology Museum of Innovation in San Jose which just launched the Body Metrics Exhibit. In this, visitors don the NeuroSky headset and as they interact with different locations around the museum, their brainwave data is “mapped”.
“It’s the future of how our mental and emotional state data will become a fundamental component of Big Data and mobile health,” says Hyver. “In the same way that activity trackers are collecting, analysing and recommending how to improve our body fitness, consumer EEG devices are beginning to enable a mind-fitness parallel.”
We were unable to get hold of Tan Le founder and CEO of Emotiv but in an excellent March 2014Q&A with JWT Intelligence she described the full potential in this market as spanning from mental performance metrics, “consumers will be empowered to have a much better understanding of and knowledge about their brain” through to more Big Brotherish forms of marketing where what you are thinking is monitored in the same way as physical responses.
“These devices are going to be used in very much the same way as what you’re seeing now with market research. The only difference is it’s not going to be done by inviting 50 people to sit down and watch a video together and let’s chitchat about it. It will be showing it to them while they’re wearing some biometric devices and seeing what the response is. It’s giving you metrics that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to,” she quantified.
She sees one of the core benefits of EEG as the volume of brain pattern data we’ll have access to in future. “So if in 10 years’ time you want to look at how your brain changed longitudinally, you can see that. The idea of ‘How does your brain change over time?’ is something we’ve never been able to see and get an insight into. The consumers of the future will have access to information we lack today.”
Like most technology the potential in this is loud and clear, however, it will take a little while to get there. Bogdan Mijović, co-founder of mBrainTrain, a wearable device for recording and analysing electrical brain activity tells us: “I believe the first working everyday gadgets are going to appear around 2020”.
Hyver feels in the short-term, “new algorithm deployments will enable new use cases to arise and open up new vertical market opportunities.” Yet in the medium-term, “the focus will be on improving the wearability features of the devices.”
“The evolution of EEG headset form factors will likely aim toward seamlessly integrating the sensor hardware into items that we already put on our heads such as baseball hats, ski caps, bicycle helmets, pilot caps, augmented-reality helmets and construction helmets,” he adds.
“We have already become cyborgs, with our smartphones attached to our pockets,” says Mijović. “Brain reading will allow the breakthrough in the speed of this human-gadget communication, which is at the moment limited by the agility of our fingers, allowing us to spend a very limited amount of time in this communication, but more frequently than ever.”
In the long-term, Hyver feels these devices will “become nearly transparent on our heads”. This will allow us to mine Big Data from our thoughts in combination with body sensor activity such as heart, temperature and blood pressure.
“It will become more sophisticated and provide greater insights into our human profile, how we engage with our environment and how we can live longer and have more productive lives.”
Information from all parts of our bodies is becoming ever more available. And while the brain may be the final frontier, this data is not really any different from anywhere else. The important thing to remember is the technology itself is just a tool… what will be telling will be how it gets used.