Connected Brains at CES 2015

January 12, 2015
By: Doug Mohney

The brain got a lot of attention at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES (News - Alert)). Concussion monitoring, game control through brainwaves and better mental health were all showcased last week in Las Vegas, combining a number of wearable and stand-alone peripheral concepts.

In Samsung (News - Alert)'s Internet of Things (IoT) keynote, discussion went to a future sensored hat monitoring brainwaves, reporting readings to the cloud, and sounding an alarm if functions start to go out of kilter.  It's the sort of thing that would have been wonderful to wear at some of the press conferences to self-monitor my stress and cynicism, but not so funny if vendors and PR agencies could get access to the data to judge the impact and effectiveness of their presentations.

Hailing from Finland, V1bes Ring-sensor combination measures EEG brainwaves, heart rate, and surrounding electrical fields in the environment for the Indiegogo price of $199, if you can wait until September 2015 to pick it up. List price will be around $259. Brainwave measurement is done by taking the rather large ring –“ring" should be used loosely, because it is basically a rectangular sensor with a strap band to go around a finger—and pressed to the forehead for 25 seconds for an EEG, followed by heart rate and the EMF pollution test.  All the data gets crunched and compared to baseline and historical data to tell if the individual is stressed or relaxed.

However, V1bes form fact has nothing over myBrain Technology's Melomind funky $299 headset. The EEG device, guaranteed to ruffle hair, connects to a smartphone and measures brain activity as you put in your earphones, close your eyes and relax, flowing with the music that adjusts with your brainwaves.  Expect to see it in September as well.

While no one has done a comparison of brainwave devices, I'd have to say the Muse looks a lot better since it is already shipping and has partnerships with BackJoy and Sennheiser. InterXon says it has moved over 15,000 units since its August launch. Muse says you can get a better brain by using the device for 3 or more minutes per day, using a combination of real-time feedback—focusing on music and sounds to calm brain activity—and reviewing data over time, getting tips to improve future meditation sessions.

There are no large-scale studies or medical association recommendations to indicate if any of these technology-aided meditation devices are effective, but the practice of meditation to calm the mind and relieve stress is gaining ground in mainstream institutions from public school systems to the U.S. Marine Corps. 

If brainwave devices are catching fire, concussion monitoring systems of all shapes and sizes are hot.  With form factors going into mouth guards and helmets, there's no escape from the integration of sensor technology and Bluetooth into the world of athletics.

BlackBox Biometrics launched the Linx Impact Assessment System, applying its "pedigree" of blast-force sensors used in "military and law-enforcement settings," according to the company.  A sensor the size of a stick of gum goes into a custom skullcap or headband, measuring acceleration and impact. Bluetooth provides reports of up to 128 players to an IOS or Android (News - Alert) app to provide a real-time dashboard of player status, while athletes can press a button on the device—assuming they are cognizant enough to do so—to see a green, yellow, or red LED to indicate the level of the hit taken.

The FITGuard device goes one better, putting the impact sensor in the mouthguard. Maker Force Impact Technologies says clinical studies suggest putting the sensor in the mouthguard gives better readings being closer to the brain's center of gravity. LEDs in the device provide a visual indication of a hard hit—yes, open wide to see the lights in the mouth—so coaches and teammates can get a direct indicator on the field as to how hard an athlete got hit, with a blinking red indicating "sit out." Bluetooth and the associated app provide detail on the force level—how this correlates with doctors and first responders is an open question at this point, other than "John took a good hit to the head."

FITGuard lasts for about a year, a bit more-or-less than the lifetime of what you'd get from a normal mouthpiece.  The zinc battery is body-safe and recharges via induction in a supplied mouthpiece case, so as odd as it sounds, I'd say this might give it a form-factor advantage over other sensors that users (athletes) are less familiar with. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle