Five years ago, Vietnamese-Australian inventor and Emotiv CEO Tan Le released the Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset, what was billed as the world’s first commercial brain-computer interface. The product, which still sells for $300, proved to be a hit, making it clear that the public craved this new kind of wearable technology.
Now, Le and Emotiv are back with an entirely revamped headset that features a full redesign and update of the original EPOC. The Emotiv Insight, they promise, not only bridges the electro-communicational gap between one’s brain and computer, but also allows users to track their brain activity in real-time and even monitor their mental health. The team has set up a Kickstarter campaign ahead of the project’s 2014 release, and the response couldn’t have been more viral. With two weeks left in its Kickstarter run, nearly 3,300 backers have pledged over $1 million in support.
The enthusiastic reaction is only surprising if you don’t already know what the Emotiv headsets can do. The new model is a multi-channel device that gives the wearer Jedi-like mind powers, and who doesn’t want to be a Jedi? As Le points out in the Kickstarter video, users can wield the Emotive Insight for very creative ends that to the outside observer might seem like magic.
But how does it work? The Insight sports a new five-channel sensor setup—a significant improvement over the EPOC—that picks up electroencephalography (EEG) data. The headset’s individual sensors target key junctions of the cerebral cortex and translates the EEG they detect into meaningful ways, which the project text explains can be used to "optimize" a user’s cognitive performance. By understanding and breaking down brain activity in this manner, the Insight can also generate brainwaves that power the product's multiple applications.
Just a handful of these are illustrated in the Kickstarter video: A child outfitted with the new headset is seen conjuring up a three-dimensional design for a toy on the computer screen before him, hands free. Another volunteer holds a modified electric helicopter—synced to the headset—in the palm in his hand and watches with amazement as it rises into the air, spurred only by his mental command. In yet another test case, a handicapped man creates the soundtrack that scores the video just using the power of his thought.
Still, these choice examples aside, the exact applications of the system are vague. That’s intentional because, as Le explains, the Insight is a platform that allows you, the user, to develop newer and unexpected uses for the technology. The Emotiv team plans to offer up API and SDK for developers wanting to play around with the technology; doing so, Le says, will "make it possible for anyone to take this innovation and create new applications with the technology."