Most smartphone owners don’t associate their device with helping them achieve a deeper meditative state, yet that’s exactly what Ottawa-based Personal Neuro Devices purports to do with its new app released this week to Google Play.
Transcend doesn’t just come with guides on how one might achieve nirvana, it goes a step further and actually reads your brain waves to see how close you’ve come. Just make a Bluetooth pair between your phone and a MindWave Mobile Brain Control Interface (BCI) headset from NeuroSky, and Transcend can start imaging your electroencephalography (EEG) patterns and give constructive feedback based on that. But Personal Neuro Devices is out for more than helping leg-folding smartphone owners disintegrate their sense of self, its looking to catch the wave of BCI before it starts to swell, projected by some industry watchers to rise to $6 billion in value by 2020.
The Ottawa-based firm also offers brain-reading apps that encourages girls to practice their concentration skills and imagines a future where EEG scans could be used in human resources applications or even the advertising industry. Its founding members include a PhD holder in EEG science and a serial entrepreneur CEO Steve Denison.
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“I’ve personally gone through the market development phase four or five different times, always software, always IT,” he says in a phone interview. “Usually what happens is a market will start to crystallize and you get a sense there’s a complete solution.”
He points to a report by market research firm Sharp Brains that estimates the digital brain health marketplace is worth $1 billion in 2012 and will climb to $6 billion by 2020. It’s the same sort of emergence that fields such as business intelligence and unified communications markets experience
over the last five years, he says. So Personal Neuro Devices has built a team of graphic artists, software engineers, and gamification experts ready to build mobile apps making EEG readings useful.
“We can roll out neuro apps in as little as four, six, or eight weeks,” he says.
Next up is an app that will read your mind to tell you what type of job you should have. MySense, slated for a three to six month development cycle, is based on the research of co-founder and PhD Elliot Loh, vice-president of research at Personal Neuro Devices. Currently existing in the form of an online survey, MySense gauges how sensitivie individual is to external stimulus. On one end of the spectrum are people who are very sensitive to their environments, as if the volume knob on the world is turned up to 10, and on the other end are those who aren’t sensitive at all, experiencing minimal reaction to the world around them.
The app will gauge your sensitivity using EEG cues as you respond to certain visual activity on your smartphone screen. Building a profile based on this information could be useful for a variety of purposes, from making workplace decisions to deciding what you want to eat for dinner, Loh says.
For example, those who are under-stimulated by their environments tend to seek more stimulating experiences and might enjoy work as a firefighter or athlete. Aside from career choice, EEG modeling could help determine what colleagues you’re more likely to work well with.
“You tend to get along better with people that have similar levels of stimulus sensitivity,” Loh says. “They are not annoying to you.”
MySense could even potentially target ads to certain users based on their EEG readings, he adds. If you do a checkout and find out you’re at a low point in your day, it might be the right time to suggest a coffee shop to visit. Not only is it the right audience at the right time, they’re in the right mood to see the ad.
Interaxon is another example of a BCI startup targeting mobile device owners with health-related products. The Toronto-based firm ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund its own Muse headset manufacturing late last year, and debuted the headset along with its Brain Health System software at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
BCI = big creepy interface?
But brainwave reading headbands have a certain creepiness about them. Most would squirm at the notion of technology outputting even a hint of their inner-most thoughts – we tend to think our our inner minds as the ultimate private realm. It’s hard to imagine everyone eagerly strapping on a NeuroSky device and uploading their MySense results to Facebook.
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The technology is in its infancy, Loh says.
“It’s the equivalence of putting your ear to the hood of your car and trying to determine what’s wrong with your engine,” he says. “We’re certainly not at the mind reading stage.”
About 2,500 users are comfortable enough to use Personal Neuro Devices’ apps on Android and NeuroSky’s own app store, CEO Denison says. The firm also has its Transcend app submitted for the Apple App Store approval process. He expects the market will soon evolve from one of early adopters to specific vertical applications, such as in physiological rehabilitation clinics.
If his company can just catch a sliver of that projected $6 billion market, then Denison will be enjoying his own state of nirvana.