The main reason why we visited the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham this year was the rare opportunity to meet the NeuroSky team here in Europe. Other than showcasing their technology, NeuroSky was going to launch two new products at the show, the MindWave Mobile, which is their latest brain-computer interface (BCI) headset, and the extremely popular Necomimi cat ears.Although the latter has been unfortunately postponed, we found a very busy NeuroSky booth (actually two of them) with lots of activities and significant media attention – the new headset has been even filmed on 3D cameras. And as an unexpected surprise, we could also see in real life the surrealistic mind-controlled dress that we reported a few weeks ago.
The unique mind-controlled dress, called Mechapolypse, was presented by the designer herself, Nange Magro, who worked two years on this project. The dress is controlled by a Mattel Mindflex headband, and it is more like a piece of art than a real dress. To have a closer view, check out the video at the end of this post or see the photo gallery below.
We also met Tansy Brook, Head of Communications at Neurosky, who is very committed to the company’s Brain Speller fundraising project that aims to develop a free app to help people who are unable to communicate.
We were also lucky enough to make an interview with Jennifer Cooke, Global Communications Manager of the company, who kindly answered our many questions. You can read the whole interview after the photo gallery.
Interview with Jennifer Cooke, Global Communications Manager at NeuroSky
Neurogadget.com: The Mindflex was recently awarded TIME Magazine’s “All Time Best Toys”, the MindWave has entered the Guinness Book of records. Why don’t we see the NeuroSky technology in a wider range of products? Will the next generation of game consoles come with BCI?
Jennifer Cooke: That is our goal. We are constantly looking for partners who can take our technology and apply to theirs. We focus on the hardware side of things, and we have made it open source to be able to work with developers, whether they are on the software side or whether they are partners such as Mattel, who utilized our ThinkGear chip within their own technology. Or whether it is working with a car manufacturer, we are developing some sort of headset that allows the car to read if the driver is falling asleep. We are open to working with anybody. Our goal is to get as much information about the technology out there as we can. We have made the chip small, 3mm x 3mm x 1.6mm. We have made it small enough to fit into basically anything, for example into an accessory for your phone. We want to make it as accessible to people as possible.
You also try to help and educate developers. Is it why you are holding the Riding The Brain-Wave conference in London next Tuesday?
Yes, that is correct. We are holding a conference on April 17 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 (TechHub, 4-5 Bonhill Street – London EC2A 4BX). We are doing that to work with the developers to make them understand what our technology is. It is a breakthrough technology, cutting edge, a lot of people really do not understand it, so we are educating them on what our cababilities are.
Are you expecting big game developers to come to this conference?
Most of the larger game developers we work with one on one. This is more a demonstration to the smaller developers who are interested and want to learn more about the technology. It is open to everyone who is interested. You never know where the next Necomimi will happen. :)
The Necomimi world launch has been postponed unfortunatelly. But what is the story behind the cat ears at all?
We have partnered with a Japanese company called Neurowear. Their brainchild, the Necomimi has started out of a joke. But when it become a Youtube phenomenon (more than 2 million views so far) we thought ‘hey, maybe this is actually a consumer product’. And the difference from the other products that NeuroSky has powered, is that Necomimi is done passively rather than actively. Most of the other applications we have, like MyndPlay or Focus Pocus, you are physically trying to do something with your mind. If I concentrate, this will happen, if I relax, an other thing will happen. With Necomimi you are just doing it naturally. As you are walking along and something catches your attention, the ears will go up. As you relax in a more meditative state, the ears will go down. It is showing your emotions as they are happening. And that is what I think capturing everyone’s mind and creativity around, that I can express my emotions on the outside. And it is not something you really have to actively concentrate on.
Can you tell our readers how does the MindWave Mobile differ from the PLX XWave?
Basically you can use over 100 applications with our MindWave Mobile headset, and we are working with developers directly to help them develop their softwares. Right now we have developer tools to help with the iOS and the Android platform – this is more the B2B side. As far as on the consumer side, we like to think that the MindWave Mobile has a higher data integrity, it is more user friendly and more reliable.
Where can the customers buy the new MindWave Mobile?
We are setting up our distribution right now. The distribution channels are currently carrying MindWave, and we are launching the MindWave Mobile specifically here at the Gadget Show Live. So this is the first time it has been available in the UK/Europe. People can purchase it here at the show for £79, later on it will be more expensive if you purchase it online.
What other products are you planning to develop/release in the near future?
Necomimi has been such a phenomenon for us – growing virally, so many people asking for it – that we are now exposing our technology to a wider range. Because Necomimi is passive, rather than active, it is easier to people to understand that they do not have to be afraid of this technology. There is a fear in some people that the brain-computer interface headset is somehow doing something to your brain. But obviously it is not true. The headset is more like a microphone that only records the voice, or in our case, the brainwaves. Because it is so new, it is often intimidating to a lot of people. We are looking into other applications of our technology that allows it to be more passive and not necessarily active. Not that we ignore the active element -we are definitely still working with developers on how to use our attention or meditation algorithm in an active and affective manner- but it is also allowing us to approach the passive element. And we also want to be more social media friendly.
Do you plan to create new BCI headsets with probably more sensors? Can we expect more ‘intelligent’ BCI devices that might understand commands like turn left, turn right etc.?
It is also a common misconception about our technology that it is going to read people’s thought and desires. We strictly pick up levels of attention, meditation – that is the only two that we can voluntarily control. All the other brain waves that we read just happen naturally.
So you are not going to release for example a 14 channels headset anytime soon.
No. We are being consumer friendly anyway. I think people have a hard enough time having a sensor on their forehead – but that is the only way we can pick up their brain signals. So starting to add 14 different sensors would not create the most comfortable device to wear. But of course you never know where the technology is going, and we are constantly developing and constantly evolving.
Fashion designer Nange Magro demonstrating her mind-controlled dress, Mechapolypse, at the Gadget Show Live 2012
Jennifer Cooke, Global Communications Manager of NeuroSky, talking about the MindWave Mobile at the Gadget Show Live 2012