Toronto-based company InteraXon is taking a new approach to thought-controlled computing with its sensor-powered Muse Headband, which debuted today on Indiegogo. The company first launched in 2007 to find commercial applications for measuring brainwaves, and to date has been been focused on thought-powered real-world installations. The new Muse Headband aims to make the technology they’ve been working on since 2003 available to anyone with a smartphone to let them play games and perform other tasks using only their thoughts, ultimately aiming to improve brain health.
The company was founded by Ariel Garten, a former fashion designer and neuroscientist. She started working on thought-controlled computing in 2003 in the lab of University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, who is often referred to as the father of wearable computing. InteraXon was previously focused on helping clients including Deutsche Telecom, the Ontario Science Centre and the Vancouver Winter Olympics with interactive installations, in the case of the Olympics letting people change the lights on the CN Tower or adjust the flow of water in Niagara Falls by wearing one of the company’s headsets, which features sensors that reads brain activity.
The Muse Headband is InteraXon’s first commercially-available product, a slim brainwave-sensing headband that users connect to their iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The company has set a $150,000 funding goal on Indiegogo, with pre-orders available for $125 for the next week, with the price going up to $150 next week. The company plans to start shipping the headbands in Q2 2013, and the headbands will then be available online and through brick-and-mortar retailers for a retail price of $199.
“This was always the goal, we knew when we came into this that we wanted to bring this technology to people so they could have it for themselves to use. All the work that we’ve been doing to date has helped us build the algorithms, the technology, the user experience,” Garten said in an interview about the launch of the Muse Headband.
Garten says there are several potential use cases for the headband, which they’ve been developing and testing for the past few years. It’s designed to mimic the fit of a pair of glasses, and has four sensors, two on the forehead and two on the back of the ears. Users pair the device with their phone over Bluetooth, and can then open up apps and interact with them. The headband will come with an InteraXon-designed brainwave health app, as well as games, and they will also be shipping software development kits (SDKs) to Indiegogo pre-orderers to let developers create their own Muse-powered applications.
Muse aims to balance emotional and cognitive skills, and Garten said the goal is to help people with everything from brain health, fitness training, and stress management.”People can on their own time with their own smartphone in their pocket be able to see inside their own mind, improve their mental fitness, play games, move things on screens, just by thinking,” Garten added.
When it comes to wearable computing, Google Glass is one of the most popular recent example of a headpiece designed to augment a user’s daily life, though it’s focused on augmented reality, not measuring brainwaves. Garten said that despite their initial trepidation when they hear the term, often people interact with wearable computing devices without even realizing it. “When you use the term wearable computing, sometimes people find it off-putting, but when you say ‘hey, how many people do you know who have a Fitbit, or a Nike+ Running, or a FuelBand, or work out with a heart rate monitor at the gym, or carry a cell phone in their pocket,'” she said. “All of these are examples of wearable computing, and they’re really quite pervasive within our lives.”
As for safety, Garten said it often helps to tell people that the headband only picks up signals their brain is creating, and doesn’t put signals into their brain. She’s also working to create an industry-wide code of conduct for anyone working on wearable computing. “We understand that consumers are placing a lot of trust in us when they use our device,” co-founder Trevor Coleman said. “This is technology they’ve never experienced before, it might seem a little strange or weird, so for us in every step of our design and development, we’re constantly thinking about how can we honor that trust those people are placing in us.”
Garten believes that thought-controlled computing is how people will eventually engage with the world on a daily basis, from answering their phones to controlling lights and other household appliances, though right now they’re focused more on helping people understand their own brains. While Muse might seem like something out of a science fiction movie, increasingly wearable computing is becoming more common to help people with their fitness, brain health, and other real-world applications. Since launching on Saturday morning the campaign has already raised over $20,000 towards its $150,000 funding goal, so it will be interesting to see not only how consumers use it, but what developers build to help users use their brain activity to power activities.