Andrew Smiley was sitting inside a huge, ornate dining hall when he began to notice the lights pulsing overhead. That’s weird, he thought. He stood up to get a better look, drawing the eyes of those around him. Suddenly, he knew what was happening, and what to do next: he bolted, diving through a porthole and straight off the side of a cruise ship.
Then he woke up, with a device strapped to his forehead.
Smiley is a cofounder of iWinks, a startup making a wearable headband that’s intended to facilitate lucid dreams. As you sleep, the device tracks your brain’s electroencephalography (EEG) signals — voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current flows within the brain’s neurons — to detect all stages of the sleep cycle. It also has a built-in accelerometer that helps distinguish between light sleeping and awake states.
Most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep, which is when the wearable kicks into action, prompting dreamers with multicolored LED lights (from the headband) and subtle audio cues (from their smartphones). The goal is to make people aware they’re dreaming without waking up, enabling them to take control of their dreams.
It’s called the Aurora.
“You’ll be in a dream, really unconscious to what’s going on around you, and all of the sudden, you’ll see the lights,” explained Daniel Schoonover, iWinks cofounder and hardware engineer, in an interview with VentureBeat. “You can do whatever you want right then.”
You can customize the audiovisual feedback you’ll experience while wearing the Aurora, which is controlled by iOS, Android, and desktop apps. For example, if you’re afraid of being woken up early, you can set the device to hold off on stimuli until after eight hours, or you can limit it to just audio or visual cues. iWink will enable developers to go even further when it makes its API broadly available.
“We’re hoping people can find uses that we haven’t even thought of yet,” said Schoonover.
Not everyone will be able to experience lucid dreams right away, cautioned Smiley. It takes practice, like subjecting yourself to the stimuli in waking life and mentally associating it with dreaming.
“With a bit of testing, we’re going to be able to land on something that will work for most people, but it’s going to take some tinkering,” said Smiley.
So far, only iWinks’ four staff members have been able to test an Aurora prototype, but the company expects to send beta gear to hundreds of Kickstarter backers in June. The crowdfunding campaign has already surpassed its $90,000 goal, with just under three weeks remaining. Backing at the $175 level will net you an Aurora from the initial manufacturing run.
Companies have previously made similar devices — see our earlier coverage of the Remee sleep mask — but the Aurora is the first to rely on EEG data. As a side-benefit, all the anonymized sleep data iWinks collects could be useful to researchers. But that’s a long-term goal, said Schoonover.
“Right now, we’re just trying to focus on producing the best hardware we possibly can,” he said.