Wearable tech to hack your brain
The technology sounds simultaneously fake and dangerous: Strap on a headset and send targeted electrical currents into your brain for about 15 minutes to get more energy, improve your focus or calm down.
Brain stimulation is a very real but still unproven area of technology for tinkering with the human brain. For decades, scientists have experimented with sending electrical currents through subjects’ skulls to their brains to do everything from treating serious mental disorders like depression to improving memory and learning.
Now Silicon Valley is hoping it can turn brain stimulation tech into sleek wearable devices for consumers. Is it really possible to make the jump from the lab to Best Buy shelves?
The latest company to attempt to create a consumer brain stimulation product is Thync, a start-up with a serious pedigree. Founded by entrepreneur Isy Goldwasser and neuroscientist Jamie Tyler, who has a PhD in psychology and behavioral neuroscience, Thync has been working on its device secretly for the past three years. It’s a portable headset that will offer three settings to start: energy, relaxation and focus.
“For some people it would be their third cup of coffee, for some people it would be their afternoon nap,” said Goldwasser.
One of the primary technologies Thync is based on is transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, which uses a weak electrical current to change the sensitivity of neurons in the brain. Neurons are cells in the brain that send electrical signals to each other, resulting in the release of chemicals that impact what a person is thinking or feeling. When targeted to the right area, the tDCS currents can create changes in how a person’s brain is functioning.
With the potential to replace everything including a soda habit, yoga class or pharmaceuticals for mental disorders, the market for brain stimulation devices that are proven to work is potentially huge. The U.S. military has even experimented with it as a way to improve pilot training. Thync is focusing on small improvements for already healthy minds.
“The users are going to be people who really have busy lives and really need tools besides chemicals, drugs or alcohol,” said Goldwasser. “They’d like another approach to change their mental state.”
It’s not the first commercial product to use tDCS. Foc.us is a $250 headset that uses tDCS to help gamers increase focus and performance while playing video games. There is an expansive community of people who experiment with do-it-yourself tDCS headsets they make using tutorials found online and equipment found at a local Radio Shack.
Even with a number of respected studies on brain stimulation, it’s still not clear if these techniques have an