Tech & Science

Muse Headband Can Read Your Brainwaves Using EEG

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08/15/14
In the Magazine
Interaxon

No matter how beautifully this sentence is constructed, there’s a good chance that by the time the end of it arrives, your mind will have wandered elsewhere. Maybe you’ve looked up from the page and out a window, or possibly clicked over to a new browser tab. Or perhaps you simply have begun to think about what’s for dinner.

“We’re so used to stimulation that we’ve started to require it,” says Ariel Garten, a practicing “neuro-consultant” (according to her LinkedIn profile) and the founder and CEO of InteraXon, a Canadian brainwave technology company. A recent Harvard University study found that people spend 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. Worse, this makes them unhappy, leading to stress and anxiety that can create or exacerbate serious illnesses. That’s one of the reasons Garten, along with her team, has developed Muse, the “brain-sensing headband.”

Muse is a very designed product, more Apple store than CVS, a sleek plastic band embedded with seven electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that monitor your brain activity. The device can send real-time information to any compatible device over Bluetooth. For now, Muse is primarily marketed alongside InteraXon’s iPhone and the Android app Calm, which is meant to help you learn to, essentially, meditate stress out of your daily life. The app teaches you how to bring your brain state from active to resting.

EEG isn’t new. For almost half a century, it’s been used in doctors’ offices and labs to measure the tiny electrical signals, called impulses, that brain cells use to communicate. It’s become a standard tool to help diagnose and monitor conditions ranging from tumors to traumatic brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also been used for many years as a therapeutic tool, helping patients learn how to track and control their emotional responses to stressful stimuli. More recent tests have looked into using EEG neurofeedback to treat epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson’s, says Dr. David Linden, a professor of translational neuroscience and neurofeedback expert at Cardiff University in Wales.

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Garten says she and her team have developed Muse in partnership with clinicians, ranging from therapists working in private practices to physicians working with cancer patients to help reduce the stress associated with treatment. But the device hasn’t been fully vetted by the medical community; no peer-reviewed studies have been published. Linden says a consumer EEG device might be a little ways off, given the current understanding of neurofeedback.

However, according to Gartner, clinical trials using Muse have begun at Harvard, and there are plans for many more at research universities and institutes. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, plans to test the product’s efficacy in managing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Regardless, the real goal, it seems, is for Muse to join the growing roster of everyday, all-day wearable devices—to take its place alongside the Fitbit and Google Glass. “This is the first EEG device that’s really a consumer product, that’s designed for ease of use, and comes with an app that’s really meaningful,” says Garten. Muse isn’t cheap—$299—but it still costs far less than other EEG headsets.

In addition to the stress-reducing Calm app, Garten expects a host of independently developed apps to follow the official launch of the product this summer, ranging from more therapeutic tools to mind-control integration. InteraXon has already publicly shown off a beer tap it’s developed that, working with the Muse headband, allows you to pour yourself a cold one. What’s next? Gartner says that “in the lab, we’ve been working on mind-controlled toasters.”

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