A device that allows you to control a computer with your brain, at most, sounds like science fiction and, at the very least, something that is reserved for corporate big shots or special labs.
This is a woman wearing InteraXon’s Muse headband as she uses her tablet device. Credit: InteraXon website
But that’s not the case with InteraXon.
They have been working on Muse, a personal headband that allows wearers to play games and even lift a chair using nothing but their own brain waves. And what is the best part? The Muse was designed specifically for the “every man.”
CEO Ariel Garten considers Muse’s user-friendly design the most important aspect. “As a company we want to create not just technology, but technology people love to use and want to wear,” Garten said. “When we designed Muse we considered what would be comfortable and fashionable for people to wear and factored these ideas into the headband.”
Who is Behind InteraXon?
This accessibility worked as an integral part of InteraXon since the beginning. The company was started in 2007, when Garten teamed up with Chris Aimone and Trevor Coleman. “Chris and I met through Dr. Mann at University of Toronto, creating musical experiences using brainwave technology,” said Garten. “Trevor was a professional event planner at the time so we started to work together on creating large scale installations. We knew we wanted to bring this technology to the public; it was too interesting to hide away and too valuable in its potential to be limited only to companies who could pay large sums to work with it.”
Along with research at the Krembil Neuroscience Institute studying hippocampal neurogenesis, the process of how neurons are generated, Garten brought experience in fashion, art, and psychotherapy, according to the InteraXon website.
This is InteraXon’s CEO Ariel Garten. Credit: InteraXon website
“Design is very important to me and has been for pretty much my whole life,” said Garten. “I was immersed in art and design from an early age, as my mother Vivian Reiss is a visual artist. Growing up, I was surrounded by her creativity and influenced by her steady stream of artistic output. I don’t see art and science as disparate.”
“At InteraXon, we pay close attention to the science and tech, as well as the artistic and emotional side of the experience. It’s who we are,” Garten said. “In addition to our academic and professional profiles, most of us have pretty varied interests.” This variety of interests can be seen in the other two founders of InteraXon as well.
Aside from event planning, Coleman has worked as an event broker for a small, Portuguese seafood restaurant in Kensington Market and started his own agency representing DJs while Aimone is also co-founder and lead designer of FUNtain, a company that produces hydraulophones, which are musical instruments that run on water, according to the InteraXon website. He also created a yoyo-powered mp3 player that won the grand prize in a Popular Science, Core 77 design challenge.
As Garten puts it, InteraXon is “a multidisciplinary mixture of scientists, engineers, developers, artists and social scientists.” It is this wide-range of people and experiences that allows the people at InteraXon to create high-tech gear for low-tech minds.
Muse: Think, Translate and Activate
So how does Muse work? According to the InteraXon website, it is a simple matter of think, translate, and activate. The brain generates electrical patterns that resound outside your head. These patterns can then be read by an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Once the thinking happens, Muse translates those brainwaves into a binary control system that a computer can understand. Your brainwaves are now capable of activating and controlling anything electric.
“EEG has always been an innovative technology, and Muse could be seen as a contribution to the history of the instruments used in the field,” Garten said. “We took the diagnostic elements of EEG and converted them into interactive experiences that both entertain and help people improve their minds. It comes with our proprietary signal processing algorithms, and our unparalleled intuitive user experiences and hardware design.”
It may sound a little too high-tech, but Garten and the people at InteraXon emphasize the fact that Muse is something anyone can use. In fact, it is the trait they are most proud of and the one that appears in all of their advertising. According to Garten, “access is our number one goal. When we began to brainstorm around what has now become Muse, we wanted to contribute to the lineage of EEG but with something that could be used on a widespread basis.”
Garten is proud of Muse’s universality and allowing everyone to work their brainwaves. “We believe in the benefits of being able to work directly with our brains and seeing meaningful progress in real time so everyone can do more. We spoke to people about how they wanted to work with EEG and their brains, and went on to design Muse to meet their needs. We’ve made it our mission to make EEG accessible—in ease of use, price point, and wearability.”
Consumer Weariness: Can the Device Read my Mind?
But Muse meets its share of consumer weariness, just like any new technology. If the FAQ on the website is any indication, some people are a little uncomfortable with the idea of manipulating brainwaves. They worry the technology will lead to mind control, but Garten and InteraXon assure people that is not the case.
“In our research at InteraXon, we have found a few barriers to widespread adoption of brainwave technology [with] one being general misrepresentation and misunderstanding of brainwave technology,” Garten said. “We have tried to simplify the explanation of how Muse ‘reads’ the signals of your brain states in a non-invasive way.”
“We like to use the analogy of a heart rate monitor—when you are having your heart rate measured, a signal you are creating is being registered—but the measuring of your heartbeat is not controlling your heart,” Garten continued. “Simply put, while you can do activities to improve your heart and your blood flow—like exercise—you can also do activities to change the signal outputs of your brain, essentially making your brain more ‘fit.’ We try and educate consumers that Muse can tell you how active or relaxed your mind is at a given time, but not discern what you’re thinking about.”
So while controlling a computer game with your mind seems like something from a science fiction novel, the comparison ends there. “It plays into fears revisiting the familiar theme authors like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley wrote about, who successfully tied together images with associated social consequences; removing our individual autonomy without consent or compliance” Garten said.
“As Huxley famously wrote, ‘Every change is a menace to stability,’ and without that change we can ensure total absence of doubt, no autonomy, and a monolithic society. Full disclosure: staff at InteraXon read these authors,” Garten said. “When we talk about ‘mind-control,’ these images are consistent tropes but dangerous when we are differentiating myth from fact about brainwave technology. We also take great strides to work with experts in the fields of privacy, security, ethics and law to establish frameworks for how consumer, brainwave technology can be facilitated and assessed in the future.”
Technology of the Future
With the fear of mind control safely tucked away in movies and books, Muse is a pretty impressive piece of technology. Various games help you strengthen and improve your brain waves and monitors read your emotions—such as stress or anger—and provide you with the right sort of music and imagery to bring things back to tranquility.
“We know about the effects of diet, good sleep, and exercise have on our bodies, but very little about brain health as a core component of our overall health and wellness,” Garten said. “Muse allows you to improve brain health by giving you a personal tool to monitor states like focus, relaxation, anxiety, and stress with your brainwave data in hand.”
Muse is already the technology of the future, but that does not mean Garten and InteraXon are done. “In the future, we hope to participate in research in areas including ADHD treatment and brainwave technology for responsive home monitoring applications,” Garten said about the future of Muse and InteraXon. “People have also started to send us amazing ideas for apps they want to build when Muse is shipped with our [software development kit].”
“We are excited to see what people build, and research they conduct, when we launch our developer community later this year,” Garten said. “We have some amazing stuff happening at InteraXon right now, and Muse is really just the beginning. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more than that.”
The Muse is retailing for $199 and is available for preorder, with an estimated release date of late 2013. To preorder visit the InteraXon website.
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