Headset measures brain activity and knows if you’re happy, sad, engaged or confused
Yair Levy and his team are mind readers.
They can literally see what’s going on inside your brain, objectively, in real time.
Using a specially-designed headset to measure brain activity, they’ve collected enough data to readily identify universal “signatures” – or biomarkers – common to everyone, that indicate when they are engaged, bored, happy, sad, confused or anxious.
They’re still analyzing results from their experiments in space in which three astronauts, including Eytan Stibbe, Israel’s second man in space, were assessed on a 10-minute cognitive task performed both in space and back on Earth.
That may one day become the basis of future research, Levy tells NoCamels. But what they’re doing here and now already has huge potential for commercial applications, healthcare and beyond.
They’re at the forefront of a brain insight revolution that is, he says, on a par with mobile phone revolution. It is opening up a new world of opportunities to gather and use insights on what is really happening inside our heads.
The tech they’re working is a quantum leap, tapping directly into the human brain, rather than relying on our words. What we say isn’t always what we mean. What we tell market researchers isn’t always the truth. But the brain.space technology bypasses all that and heads straight for the grey matter.
You may say the movie was great, but the data says otherwise. Lines on the graph clearly show you were bored. The big surprise failed to surprise you. It is clear you weren’t engaged.
The breakthrough that has allowed Levy and his team to gain such clear insights is a helmet – they call it a headset – with 460 sensors that monitor all aspects of brain activity and which should be available in 2024.
A typical EEG machine, used primarily to detect epilepsy, has 20 sensors, and was far too basic for their needs. An MRI machine, used in hospitals to investigate brain disorders and many other conditions, is a huge piece of equipment, costs up to $3m, and would have been completely impractical.
What the 30-strong team at brain.space came up with was a one-size-fits-all helmet that can ultimately be mass-produced at a reasonable price, and that can be used anywhere . . . even in space. It takes 60 seconds to fit and provides real-time data immediately.
What it does, that no other piece of equipment can do, says Levy, is “to provide researchers, physicians and software developers with a tool to interact and to interface brain activity into brain insights.
“We provide brain insights that they can easily develop into software, treatments, services, that utilize those brain insights.”
“Today for every product, and for every service, you need to get user feedback and statistical information to make adjustments and improvements,” says Levy.
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“We give you brain insights and give you the exact characteristics of every user that uses your service, and every user that uses your product.
“You will get the exact information on how it feels, how much the user engages with the service, how good the treatment is for them in all the physiological parameters you need.”
Levy offers the example of racing drivers. “Once you know what is happening in the human mind you can make better designs,” he says. Brain.space can analyze the driver’s brain activity and identify “signatures” that suggest negative emotions such as confusion. That data could provide engineers with the insight they need to redesign a Formula One cockpit, maybe by reducing the number of controls so the driver doesn’t suffer cognitive overload.
Psychologists could use their technology to compare what a patient tells them with the objective “truth” of what the helmet says. Gaming companies could measure how engaged and how challenged their players are. Maybe they don’t have the capacity to reach the next level, or maybe they’re far from their maximum potential. Likewise pilots, bus drivers and many more.
Brain.space also has huge healthcare potential. It is already being used in pilot studies at Shamir Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, to help diagnose psychiatric conditions, Alzheimer’s and dementia, based measurable similarities in brain activity.
The objective “truth” provided by brain.space will also become a highly-prized commodity for any sales or retail operation. “Instead of using a lot of statistics about previous purchases, we can see the real-time reaction of the user when he’s shopping on Amazon, for example,” says Levy.
“So we could send 100 or 200 headsets to customers and give them 50% discount. They’ll use the headset and then Amazon will be able to gather information that will tell them how to enhance the selection process of their users.”
The space mission was a remarkable opportunity to observe the effects of microgravity, but peripheral to the core mission, says Levy. He initially resisted the idea as a distraction but was eventually convinced. And he says watching the launch at Cape Canaveral, in Florida, USA, was a moment of enormous pride. Data on brain function in zero gravity could be very relevant for long-term space missions.
The inspiration for brain.space came from the company’s co-founder, whose 11-month-old baby daughter fell and suffered a traumatic brain damage. Her condition was normalized many years later, highlighting the need for technology that can objectively track the progress of brain recovery. Sami Segol, CEO of Keter Plastics, has a keen interest in brain sciences and is among brain.space’s investors.
Levy says the headsets will provide a platform for others to develop applications in whatever direction they choose.
The ability to actually see inside the human brain inevitably raises questions of morality. It’s a technology that could be used for bad as well as good.
Levy says: “We are striving to do good with our technology, that’s what leads our company. Everybody is talking now about smartphones and how bad they are for our kids, but on the other hand most of the world’s population use smartphones because of benefits that they provide.”