We at Medgadget have written a number of pieces about NeuroSky and its patented EEG devices. The company has revolutionized access to advanced brainwave biosensors, putting them in the hands of the consumer so that anyone can see their EEG data. Furthermore, NeuroSky allows you to translate this data into novel arenas such as mind-controlled games and personalized biofeedback for actions such as golf swings. It has even expanded its reach into the toy and game market.
Stanley Yang is CEO of NeuroSky, based in Silicon Valley. The company was founded in 2004 and rose to prominence with the development of its MindSet, a research and developer multimedia headset, and Mindwave, a headset for consumers. Yang’s vision of applying an already novel technology in a more consumer-centered direction has been a major reason for NeuroSky’s success and reputation in the medtech market.
We had a chance to exchange questions about a new product, Mindwave Mobile, with Stanley Yang:
Ravi Parikh, Medgadget: Your motto at NeuroSky is “Brainwave Sensors for Everybody”. How did you develop the technology and the variety of products that resulted from it?
NeuroSky CEO, Stanley Yang: Our early, core technology was developed by our founders in Korea. They developed a multi-sensor prototype that read brainwaves, eye movement and facial muscles. They demonstrated a basic ability to navigate a remote control car using brain, eye and muscle movements. Later, when the NeuroSky management team was formed, we recognized that the technology was extremely powerful and transforming, yet ultimately too complex and too costly for it to ever reach the mass market. The critical decision was made to scale back the technology to only a single sensor channel. This had the simultaneous and multiple benefits of lowering costs, making the technology more portable and creating a more wearable and consumer-friendly platform that could reach millions. Ever since that moment, it has been our mantra to make our technology and end-products available for use by anybody, anywhere and at any time.
Medgadget: Interpreting neural signals is difficult even for the trained professional. How do your products translate this information to the consumer?
Yang: “Interpretation” is the real value statement of the NeuroSky technology. Interpretation is really a higher level abstraction of the basic EEG data and how it relates to particular cognitive states. For years, interpretation was only in the domain of the neuroscience research community and biofeedback specialists. But, some mental and emotional states are less complex than others. NeuroSky’s first interpretations (relaxation-mediation, focus-attention) are based on these simpler interpretations. As our technology advances, higher levels of interpretation become possible and, thus, more potential applications (uses) can be derived from them by our partners.
Interpretation is a process based on signal capture, noise filtering and interpretation. There are significant challenges to remove noise from the very small (micro-volt) EEG signals produced from neuron activity. Two important noise filtering challenges are removing from the actual brain signal both the ambient noise (environmental noise) as well as other bio-signals noise sources (called “artifacts”). NeuroSky places a heavy emphasis on providing the most reliable EEG signal through our advances in noise filtration—otherwise, we would be interpreting “garbage.” Once a reliable EEG signal is available, the next challenge is to interpret how this information correlates to certain mental and emotional states. There has been decades of research on how certain brainwave frequencies and amplitudes relate to certain cognitive states. You can find summaries of this research on many websites. Here is one example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroencephalography. NeuroSky leverages both academic and in-house research to advance the quality and scope of our interpretation libraries.
Medgadget: Tell us about MindWave Mobile. How does it work?
Yang: The MindWave mobile is connected to the user through a single, dry electrode plate (no gels) that rests on the user’s forehead, and a simple ear clip that clips to the user’s ear lobe. The clip acts as a grounding device while the electrode picks up the electrical signals generated by the brain and emanates to the surface of the forehead skin. At the same time, the electrode is also picking up a lot of ambient noise (including imperceptible electrode movements across the head) and muscle noise (artifact) generated at the forehead. This overlaying of brainwave signal and noise sources is called the raw EEG signal.
The “brains” behind the MindWave Mobile headset is the ThinkGear™ chip. The chip lies within a cavity of the headset. Its purpose is to capture the raw EEG signal, filter out as much noise as possible, then to provide a continuous, near real-time interpretation of the user’s mental states. This information is continuously updated and packed into the ThinkGear’s output data stream, which is sent wirelessly (Bluetooth in the case of MindWave Mobile) to a remote platform (Smartphone, PC/Mac, tablet, notebook, toy, video game console, etc.). From this point, our partners’ applications that reside on those platforms capture updated ThinkGear data stream information and perform actions based on this information (e.g. controlling a video game, training a child with ADHD, monitoring a student during a learning task, etc.).
Medgadget: How does MindWave Mobile improve upon the MindWave technology?
Yang: The MindWave and the MindWave Mobile use the same, core ThinkGear chip. The major difference is based on the wireless protocol. MindWave mobile transmits its data stream via an RF signal. In order to extend the MindWave headset’s reach into the mobile market, NeuroSky replaced the RF transmitter with Bluetooth so it could communicate with iOS and Android platforms. In this way, the MindWave Mobile was born.
Medgadget: Do you have any other plans to develop newer products utilizing the technology?
Yang: There is certainly significant room to grow in terms of our ability to capture deeper and richer brain data, to develop more sophisticated noise filtering techniques and to formulate higher-order interpretations of a person’s mental and emotional states. We also see trends to merge multiple genres of biosensors in combination with EEG to build more enhanced profiles of individuals. These efforts require a combination of advances in hardware / software design and production by our R&D, Engineering and Manufacturing teams. Nevertheless, we are always conscious of the constraints that we work under. We do not want to create a new medical device that only doctors and specialists use and require a lot of cost, setup time and inconvenience. NeuroSky invented itself on doing exactly the opposite. We constantly remind ourselves of our founding principles before we embark on the next great innovation: everybody, everywhere and any time.
Medgadget: Do you foresee any clinical applications for the devices for health professionals?
Yang: Today, there is strong momentum gaining in the mobile health and wellness space. This is world of remote health, where consumers take more of an active and self-managed role in their own health needs. NeuroSky has positioned itself to more naturally fit into these markets than into the traditional hospital / clinical worlds. Remote health users need technology products that are affordable, reliable, portable and consumer-friendly in order to adopt them for use in their daily lives. This is what NeuroSky has already been doing for years. We play to our strength which is to adapt complex medical technologies into something suitable to use by anyone from a young person to a senior citizen. In the future, user brainwave data will be captured by your mobile device and delivered to the clinician (telehealth) to help her diagnose brain activity irregularities, potential disease onset, and other brain health indicators.
In terms of health and wellness applications already on the market by our partners, there are several. One research-backed partner product, called Focus Pocus, is already being used by children to improve focus and impulse control by playing a game using our MindWave headset. We have other partners who developed meditation and relaxation tools that train people to de-stress. Of course, there are other, on-going partner activities that I am unable to discuss at this time, but we are eagerly awaiting their future announcements.
In sum, biosensors are starting to play a huge role in mobile healthcare and are creating gigantic, new opportunities for companies like NeuroSky.
It was truly a pleasure to speak with such an innovator as Stanley Yang. His product continues a trend of advanced medical technology being made more user-friendly and accessible for patients. Stay tuned for a possible demo of NeuroSky in a future article!
Video from PC World: NeuroSky demos brain-controlled cat ears and helicopter
Product page: MindWave Mobile…