Nowadays, wearable devices are defiantly not an issue made only for Science Fiction. Wearable devices are all around us, and improving our life on a daily basis. But still, when people hear of wearables that can ‘read their minds,’ or that connect the human brain to a computer or machine (Brain Computer Interphases, BCI), the borders between fiction and reality suddenly sound a bit blurry. Nevertheless, brain implants of all kinds have been out there for years now, and have all kind of applications, from gaming and marketing, to medical and clinical uses.
Everyone today can just go online and buy himself an electroencephalography (EEG) based headset that monitors (or control) his brain activity. The first kind of device is the “brain reader” (Muse, NeuroSky, Enobio, OpenBCI, Emotive, and NeuroSteer that is coming into market soon). The technology behind these devices is based on EEG activity recordings: A non-invasive method meant to detect the electrical activity of the brain. Those voltage fluctuations in the brain are the result of the flow of ionic currents within the neurons, and can be detect easily by positioning specifically designed electrodes on strategic points of the scalp. Using EEG, we can extract information on both spontaneous electrical activity (oscillatory activity) that goes on continuously in the living individual, and on evoked potentials, which are components of the EEG that arise in response to a stimulus (like a flashing light, or sounds and tones).
Each of those has different uses and potential applications. Those EEG based headsets are mostly simple to use, and easy to wear. Some devices come with a built in application and guided exercises such as training yourself to reduce your stress level. Some devices are also meant for developers, and enable implementing brainwave signals to control whatever you want to develop (like OpenBCI).
Another type of “brain wearables” on the pipeline, are the “activity writers,” or electrical brain stimulation kits (like Thync), that works by applying electricity directly to the brain. Such devices aim to “boost brain function,” and made for helping you tune your mood, make you more alert, improve attention, and alleviate certain medical conditions. Similar brain stimulation methods such as Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) are already used for academic needs in research labs all over the world. They are non-invasive, produce only mild stimulation, and have even been tested by the US military in an attempt to improve the performance of its drone pilots. However, academic studies have yet to establish how efficient those brain stimulation devices are, so it’s still too early to know what this huge jump from preliminary lab research into the wide costumer’s world will be like. (You can read more about Thync’s technology)
This growing filed of “brain wearables” is still rather novel, and even though many applications and services of different shapes and sizes are already under development, there are still enormous amount of innovations and technologies that are just waiting to burst.
In the “BRAINIHACK” hackathon (2015) that took place a month ago, a hundred talented developers, neuroscientists, physicists, makers and designers met to “create the future” and come up with the most awesome ideas for brain applications using EEG headsets. I encourage you to learn more about their work and hope it will inspire many other minds to create and develop outstanding brain wearables!
Until next time!