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Can a sleek headband which reads your brainwaves help you to achieve inner peace? Interaxon‘s CEO, Ariel Garten certainly thinks so. Her company’s first product, Muse, is an EEG (Electroencephalography) headband which determines what kind of brain waves you are producing and a Brain Health package which helps you to change them.
“You can listen more carefully to what’s going on inside the brain, understand the relationship between brain activity and emotions and gain more control over your emotional state,” Garten explains.
An EEG measures electrical activity in the brain by detecting it via contacts on the scalp. As a medical instrument it has long been used to diagnose conditions like epilepsy and dementia as well as determining whether a patient in a coma is brain dead. Brain electrical activity is cyclic in nature, hence the name brainwave. Waves within particular ranges of frequencies, like “alpha” or “beta” waves, have various types of biological significance.
“Beta waves are associated with focus and alpha waves when you are relaxed and calm or quiet the mind,” says Garten. Beta waves are emitted when people are alert, agitated, tense or afraid and have frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale. When relaxed, the frequency slows down to 7-13 pulses per second, so called “alpha waves”. We spend most of our time in beta mode, but the alpha rhythm is ideal for learning and performing complex tasks. Decreasing the brain rhythm using techniques like meditation and mindfulness also produces significant increases in the levels of beta-endorphins and dopamine.
“This is still first stage technology so what we can detect is still quite limited but the very fact that we can detect it is pretty damn exciting, ” enthuses Garten. “The predominant thing we can detect is alpha waves and beta waves.” The Muse headband measures full brainwave spectrum data from four points on the scalp: the temples and behind the ears. The integrated Brain Health system suggests and runs you through a series of mindfulness-based exercises such as deep breathing suitable for your current brainwave state. ”
“Meditators can have a higher resting alpha state. When you are meditating there are a number of brain changes which go on and over time those become persistent so people are able to maintain this calm state of mind. ”
At the LeWeb conference in Paris, Garten demonstrated the headband by adding contextual information based on brain activity to an email. “When someone is focussed the characters are small and tight and as they dream or relax or start to laugh the letters have florishes. When you are adding emphasis to something, you are smiling or using a lot of facial movement (which Muse can detect), we make the text bigger.”
Interaxon is certainly not the only player in this space. Neurosky makes an EEG chipset for integration into other devices as well as producing EEG devices which cost around $200. Emotiv has produced a more sophisticated 16-sensor headset which can detect some emotions and thought patterns but it’s a rather more steep $750. Both applications seem to emphasise applications where you directly control things with your brain such as a computer interface.
“We can do really basic controls – one dimension – based on alpha waves and beta waves. When you focus on something it will happen. If there’s a glowing ball in your game and you focus on it (to go into a beta state), it can get bigger, ” says Garten. However, Muse’s objective seems more inner exploration than external control. As the Buddha said “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you.”
Muse can be pre-ordered on crowd-sourcing site IndieGogo where the project has already raised $253,293.