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FIRST LOOK

Muse EEG headband promises to boost your relaxation and concentration

New wearable gizmo reads your brain waves and provides real-time feedback

Published: October 06, 2014 04:15 PM

Have you been feeling stressed out, possibly because you're too tightly tethered to your tech devices? Well, the answer could be even more technology. The InterAxon Muse ($300), “the brain sensing headband,” is designed to monitor your brain activity and help you gradually learn to focus and relax. We had a chance to try it, along with its companion "Calm" app.

First, some explanation: The concept draws on biofeedback therapy, a technique for coping with pain, lowering blood pressure, and so on that gained popularity in the 1980s. Sensors are attached to various places on a patient's body to provide real-time feedback on various physiological indicators, and the patient learns techniques (slow breathing, relaxing certain muscles, mental focus) to improve concentration and health. The Muse is a mobile version of that technology and is used for neurofeedback (i.e. monitoring brain activity).

You wear the Muse headband across your forehead and tucked behind your ears. It’s lined with seven EEG (electroencephalogram) sensors that the company says detect your brain’s electrical activity. You download the Calm app to your smart device, and pair the Muse headband via Bluetooth. That part was easy.

It's a bit tougher to get the headband to fit so that its sensors are in the right place; even when I pulled my copious hair back, it took me a while to get confirmation from the app that I had the Muse headband on correctly, and that all the sensors were getting strong signals. But the app’s instructions were easy to follow and very thorough.

Want more on wearable tech? Check our smart watch reviews and find out what you need to know about Google Glass.

Once you’re connected, the app calibrates itself to your brain activity. The company describes this process as “a required step to make sure Muse will provide accurate and responsive feedback.”

Then it's time to begin. You’re encouraged to close your eyes, straighten your back, relax your shoulders (OK, calmer already!), and count your breaths. The feedback comes in the form of auditory cues: When you’re calm and focused, you hear gentle waves, and chirping birds when you’re really calm. When your mind wanders, the sound of wind and waves gets louder, reminding you to refocus.

Afterward, the graph displays peaks and valleys from the session, which correspond to your shifting mental state. The Calm app tracks your sessions over time, and as you continue, you can unlock new features in the app. (I haven’t gotten there yet.)

After several sessions with the Muse, I did feel that I was able to maintain my focus better. I also felt relaxed and clearheaded after each session. This is anecdotal, of course; we don’t have lab tests for this type of product (yet, anyway). But the concept of this device, along with competitors such as Emotiv, opens up intriguing possibilities for wearable technology, including brain-controlled drones, toys, and computer functions.

—Carol Mangis


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