FuelBand for alpha waves

09.54, Wednesday 16 May 2012

I was waiting for a bus the other day, and had a pretty good time stand there, wool gathering, contemplating the world, thinking about the various things I needed to do, etc.

And on the bus after I thought: I don’t give myself enough time to stop and think.

And then I thought: I don’t give myself enough time to exercise either, and what I did in that case was buy a Nike+ FuelBand and monitor how many steps I take each day. (There was a surprise there: Factoring out exercise, there’s a huge variation in my regular everyday activity, a four-times difference between quiet days and active days although they feel much the same.)

So I bought a MindWave from Neurosky which is a portable electroencephalography (EEG) headset with dry sensors. That is, it measures faint electrical activity on my head to read my brainwaves, and it’s “dry” so I don’t need to soak the sensors in saline or anything like that.

In theory it should be able to measure when I’m concentrating, when I’m excited/agitated, and when I’m relaxed.

It comes with a dongle to plug into my Mac so I can read the data from it using the MindWave developer tools. (In retrospect I should have bought the MindWave Mobile which uses Bluetooth and can also connect to the iPhone.)

It’s a shame the MindWave doesn’t store data itself – if I want to get long-term readings then I will have to keep it paired with my Mac and store and analyse the data there.

Why? Because I’d like to wear this the whole time, and become more mindful of how much time - and for how long - I’m concentrating, reflecting, etc. And over time, being mindful of this, could I see whether I’m happier/more productive/more creative when I spend (say) regular time each day reflecting, or long periods of time on a single day concentrating, and so on.

Companies I would start if I wasn’t doing this one:

The models currently in this space are exemplified by two companies, both based on Neurosky’s technology:

  • Home of Attention, which caters to managers for trainers and managers for education and self-improvement. In their literature there are phrases like : You learn to relax at any time, You learn how to use your concentration to access any required performance at an instant. Other companies focus brain training on different sectors, and adjust their branding accordingly.
  • Toys and games, of which my favourite is the Necomini cat ears headset. These ears perk up when you see something interesting (food, a pretty boy), and fall when you relax. A neat toy… and done right it would be entertaining to see these in bars, although I have a feeling they’re really a Hypercolor for checking people out.

Neurosky themselves have an app store.

But I think these companies are missing a trick. I’d like to introduce focus, good design, and vertical integration, and take lessons from successes like Nike+ and Foursquare.

I would love to take the Neurosky MindWave technology, have it store data for later syncing as a Bluetooth Smart Device, make it look great, wrap a FuelBand self-awareness and goals iPhone app around it, build in a mood tracking feature for feedback - maybe correlate it with email and calendar/todo list activity, Twitter/Facebook updates (for another mood datapoint), and Foursquare (for location) - and sell it as a headband.

You would share the time you’d spent reflecting each day on Facebook. There would be challenges, and self-awareness. I might bootstrap a distributed network of gym instructors for meditation (we’d have a marketplace for subscription yogis).

Kind of a cross between Brain Age (or Brain Training depending on your territory), FuelBand, product sales plus subscription services, quantified self, and mental well-being.

The really interesting stuff would happen when we start using machine learning across vast amounts of data from tens of thousands of individuals, all submitting brain wave and activity/mood data. We’d data-mine like crazy. What would we learn? It would be a little like 23andme, the data-mining + pathologies + gene sequencing company, and a little like Knewton with their personalised, adaptive learning. Maybe we would end up saying things like:

You know you need to be on top form in 5 days? We know from past behaviour and by looking at people like you that you need to spent 30 minutes more per day in uninterrupted quiet reflection in order to achieve this. Here’s your goal. Go!

There’s not quite a business here, not at launch… but after you find out what combinations of which mental states over a day promote what kind of behaviours, and you can help people be mindful of that? There’s something really big there, I’m sure.

I wish I had more hours in the day.

Right now

I am using my MindWave and playing Blink/zone to explode fireworks whenever I blink. When I don’t blink they don’t explode, when I do blink they do. It works surprisingly well. It’s a weird experience to have something I regard as so interior picked up by a computer.

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