Business

Google reportedly tried to buy a brainwave-reading startup

InteraXon's brainwave-sensing headband

Above: InteraXon's brainwave-sensing headband

Image Credit: InteraXon

Not content with voice, visual, or gestural input, Google cofounder Sergey Brin reportedly tried to buy a Toronto-based startup that makes a brainwave-tracking headband.

On Thursday, TechCrunch cited an unnamed source close to InteraXon, which makes the Muse headband. The source reported that Google approached the company, which said it was not interested in getting acquired.

Founded in 2009, InteraXon has already attracted $7.2 million in funding, including a Series A Round led by Horizon Ventures last summer that netted $6 million. An Indiegogo campaign through the end of last year pulled in almost $300,000.

Cofounder/chief executive Ariel Garten has said she wants to build a $500 million company within five years. Other companies, such as NeuroSky, are also working on brainwave interfaces.

The headband, expected to be released in May for about $300, uses six EEG sensors to monitor electrical activity in the brain, which the company compares to a heart-rate monitor detecting a pulse. Changes in five brainwave types are detected while a user focuses on specific tasks, and those changes are transmitted as digital signals to an app on a device.

InteraXon reports on its website that it has tested such a revolutionary peripheral in a variety of unconventional use cases: “Lighting up Niagara Falls while seated in Vancouver. Shooting bolts of lightning at a watermelon while trying to make it explode. Playing a [harmless] replica of the very game that almost doomed the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.”

Brain-controlled beer

And pouring beer. By delivering either “focused” or “relaxed” brainwaves that exceed a specified threshold, an InteraXon-customized Beer Tap will pour beer if, and only if, your brain really, really wants to quench that thirst.

On its to-do list: using Muse to control music devices, play games, or change environmental settings in one’s home.

InteraXon’s Garten has said that people “keep trying to be smarter than [the Muse system], but it catches them every time.” Lines formed at the International CES tradeshow in January just to try the device.

Roger Kay, a technology analyst with industry research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, told VentureBeat that it’s “not at all that surprising that an entrepreneur in the acceleration phase would turn Google down.”

He pointed out that InteraXon, like other startups, has already done “a lot of work to reduced the risk” that their mind-sensing technology will work and, until they are full-out marketing and distributing the product line, Google’s heft is not all that useful.

A pending question, Kay said, is whether this technology can be made to work 100 percent of the time. If not, he noted, it might be “cheap insurance” for Google but it would have limited appeal to a general market.


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