• 05.06.11

Not A Joke: Brainwave-Powered Cat Ears Put Your Emotions On Display

Hello kitty!

Not A Joke: Brainwave-Powered Cat Ears Put Your Emotions On Display

You know a sci-fi concept like “brain/computer interface” is gaining critical mass when it starts to be incorporated into incredibly silly products. I remember playing with a brain-sensor headset from Emotiv at CES a few years ago, and thinking: “Wow, this could really help amputees and veterans use their computers!” Well, now a Japanese company called Neurowear is using the technology to cater to batshit-crazy cosplayers. See for yourself:


The lifelike movement is undeniably powerful as a “communication tool.”

The product, called Necomimi, is billed as “a new communication tool that augments [the] human’s body and ability.” It uses sensors embedded in a headband to pick up the electrical activity in your noggin and power a pair of servo-controlled cat ears. When you focus your attention on something, the headband senses the spike and pricks up the ears. When your attention wanders, the ears fold down.

Necomimi is totally wacko, but the movement is so lifelike that it’s undeniably powerful as a “communication tool” all the same. You can’t help but feel for the cat-ear-lady in the demo video when she crushes on that nice cyborg boy (ears up!) and then feels rejected (aw, ears down). And when you see a kid use it in real life, your heart may just melt — no matter how techno-cynical you are:

There’s only so much resolution the Necomimi’s crude headband can pick up from your brain activity through your hair, which means the product is pretty much a toy at best. In comparison (as Wired UK explains), Emotiv’s cap uses 14 strategically-placed EEG sensors to provide more flexible functionality; to achieve total Matrix-like mind control, you’d need a full-coverage rig like this. And let’s face it, the human face on its own is much better at communicating a range of emotions than a pair of fake cat ears.

Then again, sometimes it isn’t. People on the autism spectrum, for instance, sometimes have great difficulty telegraphing their emotions, or reading those signals from others. What if something like the Necomimi were used as a teaching tool for autistic kids (or their neurotypical parents)? In that context, its cartoony simplicity might actually be useful. Or it could just be a way for people on the autism spectrum to express themselves playfully, just like anyone else who wants to get goofy sometimes. In any case, the Necomimi invites us to consider the design solutions embedded even in “silly” products. At the very least, it’d make a great gag gift at a bachelorette party.

[Hat tip to @mims]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.