Once belonging to the realm of brain research within medicalized environments, electroencephalograms (brain electrical signals) can now be picked up wirelessly at the surface of the head (without surgically implanted electrodes). For a long time, the best signal results had only been achieved through careful skin preparation (with a medical assistant or a nurse care and placing the electrodes manually after a special gel was applied).
Lately, a number of companies have developed dry-electrode EEG headsets, hassle-free to put on, with the promise to control a number of electronic appliances and software only using brainwaves. Presented as a revolutionary Brain Computer Interface, the costly Emotiv EPOC with its 14 EEG channels is still mostly an instrument for scientific research.
The company also markets a lighter and more fashionable version, the Insight. Though apart from mobility-impaired users who could certainly benefit from the remote and handless operations enabled by the device, it has yet to be seen if EEG could become a mainstream enabler tied to smartphone apps or games.
So when imec, the Holst Centre and the Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) faculty of Delft University of Technology promote a consumer-grade wireless EEG headset that can be worn comfortably and yet achieves medical-grade EEG data acquisition, the technological feat is certainly there, but who will be first to lure consumers into wearing it?
With dry polymer and active electrodes, miniaturized and low-power data acquisition, and low-power wireless interfaces to smartphones, the EEG headset ticks a number of boxes as a wireless brain-computer interface, for some professional use cases maybe or in some virtual reality environments. Consumer applications could include games that monitor relaxation, engagement and concentration, but the wireless headsets could also be used for attention training, sleep training and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), say the researchers.
"The mobile app relates the user’s emotional state to environmental information such as agenda, location, proximity to others and time of day, in order to provide feedback about the unconscious effects of the environment on the user’s emotions, thus creating awareness and actionable new insights", reads the statement from imec.
But will EEG headsets become the necessary gadget for the millions of digitally-intoxicated and isolated smartphone users to check their emotions and mood, in the absence of real people to interact with?
Will anyone truly benefit from such monitoring apps, adding another layer of digitalization to our self, or will this be an accelerator for digital burnouts? I guess EEG interfaces are an ongoing experiment, and only the future will tell if consumers are willing to embrace this technology and through which marketing tactics.
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