Portland, Ore. NeuroSky Inc. wants to get into your head. By fusing brain wave recognition algorithms with a sensor chip and dry electrode, NeuroSky hopes to simplify cell phone-based applications that today require error-prone human input, as well as revolutionize applications from gaming to medical diagnostics and therapy.
"Our chip is a processor with DSPs and all the peripherals and software on it," said Stanley Yang, chief executive officer at NeuroSky (Santa Clara, Calif.). "Our chief technology officer, Koo-Hyoung Lee, has been trying to consumerize the human biofeedback signal since 1999. Right now our technology is a third-generation prototype, but we expect to start delivering chips as early as next year."
CTO Lee studied human factors engineering at Virginia Tech, then worked for LG Electronics developing consumer electronics that use biosignals. Lee recruited Alexander Kaplan, formerly head of the Brain Research Group at Moscow State University's Human Physiology Department, as managing director of NeuroSky's Moscow R&D Center.Kaplan's team of four scientists develops algorithms to interpret brain waves harvested from NeuroSky's patented electro-encephalogram chip and its Dry Active Sensor.
Conventional EEGs require the use of greasy paste to reduce the impedance between an electrode and a person's skin, but NeuroSky's dry electrode just needs to touch the forehead via a pod that can be attached to virtually any headset.
"For common applications like detecting drowsiness, our algorithms are very, very reliable since all they need to detect is the frequency and amplitude of your brain waves," said Yang.
Five companies, including a Bluetooth headset provider, game console maker and trucking company, are said to have signed up to market end-user products containing NeuroSky's chips. Its biggest customer thus far is Ziyitong Technology Co. Ltd. (China Mobile), which has more than 100 million cell phone subscribers, 13 million of whom have high-speed 3G service.
Ziyitong already offers a suite of mobile gaming applications. With NeuroSky-enabled headsets, Yang said, the provider could market its games as "good for kids" because they make gaming proactive. "Our sensor can train users to concentrate, plus it requires them to become proactive in their gaming skills. This transfers over to making them more outgoing in their social lives," he said.
That's a leap of logic, perhaps, but NeuroSky cites medical studies showing that players of reactive games become passive over time. That can carry over to a gamer's social life as the gamer waits for others to make the first move, NeuroSky argues.
Ziyitong also offers an online dating service. Users must answer a long list of questions from which their profile is generated. The catch is that users aren't always truthful. "But on a cell phone equipped with a headset using our sensor, the content provider could just flash images that represent the questions, and our sensor would record users' reactions," said Yang. "You cannot lie with your brain waves."
NeuroSky is working with videogame console makers on an application to sense the mood of the gamer and adjust the game accordingly. "It's like having a dancing partner who follows your lead," said Yang.
In Asia, people tend to congregate in public venues after work, using their phones for e-mail, reading, streaming video, even karaoke. NeuroSky's sensor could aid those applications by automating data collection, Yang contended.
Also on the drawing board is a sleep detection module for workers, such as truckers, pilots and security guards, who must remain alert. "We are working with one of the major trucking companies to embed our sensor into the headsets they already have in place," said Yang.
Down the road, NeuroSky wants to team with medical-electronics companies to tackle attention deficit disorders.