Stress is a huge factor in every Canadians life and it has some major consequences.
According to Statistics Canada, stress-related absenteeism costs $3.5 billion each year. Heart and Stroke lists “excessive” stress as something that can shave two years or more off your life. Stress is one of five controllable behaviors that contribute to a heart attack along with smoking, diet and physical inactivity.
But chilling out isn’t something that is entirely quantifiable, which makes it much harder to control. It’s no surprise then that a brain-sensing headband that promises a way to manage and measure your stress smashed its goal on crowdfunding site Indiegogo back in December of 2012.
Thought controlled computing startup InteraXon, raised nearly double its $150,000 goal a year and a half ago for Muse, a wearable device that uses EEG sensors to measure brainwave activity. Muse is a brain fitness device which helps users manage stress, stay calm and stay focused. Just as activity trackers like Jawbone UP and Nike FuelBand help motivate people to get off the couch to live a better physical life, Muse is an activity tracker for the mind, helping people find pockets of calm to live a better mental one.
Muse itself is a semi-flexible and extremely comfortable adjustable headband. It fits around users’ ears and around their forehead. The device features seven EEG sensors, five around your forehead and two behind your ear. Once the headband is paired via Bluetooth to the user’s Android or iOS device, the Muse app, Calm, calibrates the device and then walks users through an exercise to help reduce stress.
The Calm exercise is mainly an audible one. The app first gives users a category, like “Historical Figures”, and asks them to think about as many of them as possible. This calibrates the device. Once this is done, the exercise asks users to focus on their breathing to help reach a calm, focused brain state. Users know when they’ll get there based on the audio feedback it provides. When a person is calm, the beach scene they’ll hear will sound still and serene. When users reach maximum calmness they’ll even start to hear birds chirp. As the mind becomes more active, the winds pick up, the water rolls and users may even start to hear the beginning of a thunderstorm.
At the end of each exercise, the Calm app provides you with a report including a line graph of your brain activity and the amount of time your mind was calm versus active during your session. There is also a gamification aspect to the app as it applies points for calmness and bonuses for the number of birds you heard.
I had the chance to try Muse at InteraXon’s office last week in Toronto. I was happily surprised at how responsive the device was in measuring my brain activity and how immersive the Calm exercise felt while doing it.
Muse sat comfortably on my forehead and within seconds I was up and running for a three minute Calm session. At first I thought I was doing quite well. The wind and water sounds I heard didn’t seem too active and I was nowhere near the thunderstorm levels I was warned about. But it was only when the wind and water noises completely dissipated, like when the sun comes out to dry everything up after a storm, that I understood that I had reached my desired state. This was fleeting of course. My mind quickly became flustered when I heard somebody walk aggressively in the hall outside the room. Once that happened, the wind and water began to roar. Looking back at the reports Calm produced after my exercise, it was very easy to pinpoint these moments. And it was clear that I had a long way to go.
Once you try Muse its easy to understand why VentureBeat would call it “The Most Important Wearable of 2014”. As a species that only uses about 10 percent of our brains, a device that starts to help us measure and improve our minds is extremely powerful. Muse may be starting right now with an app that calms your mind, but we are sure see other use cases like neurogaming and possibly even being able to control connected things using this device once developers begin to create apps using Muse’s available SDK.
Muse saw over 1,450 early adopters back its project in 2012. At that time the project had an original ship date of December 2013. After a long wait, the company has started to ship the device out to these backers starting with the deluxe developer supporters. Last month, InteraXon quietly launched a new website and opened up orders of Muse to the public for $299 USD. New orders are expected to ship in six to eight weeks. In talking with InteraXon, we learned that the launch of online orders is just the start of big things for Muse. The company has also been busy working on some retail partnerships which will be announced soon.
InteraXon has loaned me a Muse for one week to try it out and see its impact on my overall mental wellness. I’ll be taking “Muse” breaks every day and will be tracking my progress via the Calm app. I’ll report my findings back here on BetaKit next week.