Wearable Fitness Technology: An Analysis of EEG Sensing Wearables

The emergence of wearable technology has lead to the creation of EEG wearables, devices that are capable of reading and interpreting the user’s brainwaves. This innovative new technology has vast applications in many sectors such as fitness, lifestyle, market research and medicine. Although the opportunities for EEG wearables are endless, their many limitation prevent them from being fully accepted in the aforementioned markets. Given the current state of the technology, EEG wearables are not expected to show sustainable growth in the near future. Current scientific research in the area of EEG wearable technology shows great potential for the use of the device but also many debilitating limitations. Intense competition across all market segments within the EEG wearable market, combined with poor consumer acceptance of the device, act as a barrier to market growth. Additionally, current trends within the consumer, business and hospital sectors provide opportunities for EEG wearable growth but technological limitations prevent this. Finally the product modifications required to improve this technology are unlikely to occur in the near future.

Validity of EEG Wearable Technology

Research has shown promising applications for non-invasive EEG wearable devices but significant limitations affect the accuracy of this novel technology.

Multiple research studies have investigated the potential uses for EEG wearable technology. One study by Imtiaz and Rodriguez-Villegas introduces a novel way that EEG wearables could be used to detect sleep REM stage epochs (1). This would allow for wearable monitoring devices that weigh less, have a longer battery life, and are less complex (1). The researchers claim the results of their study will help designers build wearable sleep staging systems (1).

Another study by Gruzelier et al also supports the application of wearable EEG devices (2). His research suggests that EEG-neurofeedback techniques could be valuable in optimizing cognitive performance, including attention and memory (2). The MUSE TM headband is one such product as it specifically focuses on improving mental skills (2). Gruzelier’s research shows the possibility that MUSE TM technology could succeed at strengthening cognitive skills (2). This study claims “There is now sufficient evidence validating the role of EEG-neurofeedback in enhancing function to dispel the lingering vestige of prejudice against the value of this EEG methodology technology (2).” The above studies depict the positive aspects and potential applications of EEG wearable technology.

Although multiple studies praise the innovation of EEG wearable technology, many researchers have questioned the validity of the results. A study by Rice et al shows that a shift in brain orientation, resulting in a small change in the thickness of the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), has a significant impact on the magnitude of EEG readings (3). The thickness of the skin and skull also affect the EEG signal (3). Based on the findings of this research, a wearable device such as the MUSETM headband can hardly present an accurate depiction of brain activity since the user’s head orientation is not fixed. Moreover, since EEG signals are influenced by characteristics such as skin and skull thickness, a headband must be customized to the user in order for it to truly represent their brain activity accurately (3). Another study by Mihajlovic et al suggests that more research should be done on the effects of personal traits on EEG signals among different age groups (4). They believe there is a need in the market for wearable daily EEG monitoring, as consumers are concerned with their mental wellness (4). However, they argue that the present technology still has a long way to go before wearable EEG devices could be introduced in daily life (4). Thus, there are a multitude of limitations to using EEG wearable technology as a brain monitoring device, specifically with regards to the accuracy of the product.

Solving the Brain

Therefore, although there is great potential for EEG wearable technology to be applied across many industries, the constrained accuracy of the device prevents its full acceptance by many researchers and thus stunts market growth.

Competitor Analysis

The major segments within the EEG wearable market include lifestyle, fitness and medical applications. Intense competition in each of these market segments curbs growth of individual firms and limits future growth of the industry.

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The lifestyle market sector is currently experiencing the greatest amount of competition. The EEG headband MUSE TM, produced by Interaxon, is one product in this sector. The MUSE TM headband is designed to read brain signals during specific tasks, detect distractions and train the user’s brain to increase focus (5). This technology relieves stress through the use of interactive games that connect with smart phone technology to track user performance (5). MUSE TM faces the challenge of dealing with their competitors MELON, produced by Neurosky, and Emotiv. These EEG-sensing technologies also function to detect distractions and improve user focus (5). Along with similar product uses, these products also have similar quality, prices and target audiences. The target audience ranges from young professionals to older retired individuals (6). The lack of differentiation between products in this market segment creates price based competition, which reduces profitability of companies. The limited profitability in this sector, caused by intense competition, will reduce growth of the lifestyle sector within the EEG wearables market.

Rising competition within the medical segment of the EEG wearable market will limit growth of this sector. Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM), Brainscope and Ambu® use EEG-sensing technology in order to assist medical professionals with diagnostics and research. ABM focuses on diagnostics for sleep patients, Brainscope focuses on traumatic brain injuries and Ambu® creates disposable EEG sensors for hospital use (7,8,9). Although each product has a distinctive use, there is the opportunity for firms to encroach on their competitor’s specialization. This is evident in Ambu’s annual report, which states that the firm holds 17–18% of the market share for 2013–2014 (10). The report emphasizes the intense competition within the market and the possibility of expanding their product uses (10). Expansion would threaten other firms currently specialized in that area as well as possibly prevent entry from new firms. Therefore, although the medical sector of EEG sensing technology is currently differentiated, possible expansions outside of a firm’s specialization would increase competition.

Competition is expected to intensify within the fitness sector of the EEG wearables market. Wearable Sensing is an example of a firm currently competing within the fitness sector. This company has created a product that provides sustained EEG readings during physical activities such as surfing (11). This product uses dry-sensing technology that allows the user to perform physical activities while receiving real-time updates from the device (11). This sector is at risk of growing competition due to the presence of other EEG sensing technologies that could be utilized in this area, including MUSE TM and MELON. Thus, although the fitness sector of the EEG wearables market is currently small, expansion of products from other sectors into the fitness sector would increase competition.

Considering the aforementioned points, intensifying competition within multiple segments of the EEG wearables market limits the profitability and growth of this industry.

Consumer Insights

Growth of the wearable EEG market is limited by its inability to attract the mainstream consumer market and consumer concerns regarding device accuracy and aesthetic appeal of the product.

Consumer’s inability to relate to EEG wearable devices due to poor marketing campaigns limits the growth potential of this product. EEG sensing wearables have only been able to successfully appeal to a particular group of consumers such as higher income brackets and consumers whose interests are technologically driven (12). The relatively poor public image of EEG sensing wearables is primarily due to the marketing strategy (12). Current strategies tend to emphasize the technology behind the product and fail to address the usefulness and aesthetics of the product (12). Many EEG wearable firms have failed due to their inability to attract consumers. This prevents consumers from relating to the product and envisioning the application of the device in their daily lives. As the vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Device Group states, “It requires an understanding of why people would use wearables. It has to have meaningful usage, connect them to their environment and be aesthetically pleasing” (13). Thus, the poor public image of EEG sensing wearables, driven by disconnected marketing campaigns, results in negative projections for its future market performance.

Concerns regarding the accuracy of EEG sensing wearables limits the demand for this device. The accuracy of EEG sensing technology remains as the leading concern to the consumer. For example, the ability of EEG wearables to accurately differentiate rapid eye movement (REM) sleep from deep sleep when used as a sleep monitoring device remains as a barrier to the success of this technology in the consumer market (14) . Additionally EEG sensing technology is not standardized across products, which results in variable consumer experiences (15). Since the consumer is unable to trust the accuracy and validity of the device, it warrants the product useless to the consumer. This will limit the integration of EEG sensing technology into the mainstream consumer market and cripple sustained market growth.

EEG sensing wearables face an aesthetic barrier to the mainstream consumer market as its non-fashion forward approach to product design prevents sustained market growth. EEG sensing wearables require the use of scalp placed electrodes resulting in the design of a headband (12). Majority of currently available headband wearables are considered unappealing to the general consumer (12). As Aysegul Ildeniz, vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group states, “consumers don’t want something that looks ugly and techy and plastic-y,” (13). However, Intel has made efforts to create fashion forward designs through potential partnerships with brands such as Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors (13). These efforts are yet to be made among the companies involved in producing EEG sensing headbands, which remains as a limitation to consumer acceptance of EEG wearables and prevents future market growth.

Therefore, consumer’s inability to relate to EEG wearables combined with concerns regarding product accuracy and aesthetics, greatly limits growth of this technology.

External Trends

Trends promoting societal health and fitness, integration of neuroscience in business, and adoption of mobile technology in medicine, all provide opportunities for EEG wearables.

Current social trends promoting health and fitness drive fitness industry growth but lack of long-term use of wearable activity trackers limits growth of EEG wearables. The current fitness trend is fuelled by increasing health awareness and political health campaigns. One of these political initiatives is the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, which allows parents to claim up to $1000 of physical activity program fees per child (16). An Adult Fitness Tax Credit has also been proposed and may be implemented in the near future (16). Although the presence of multiple fitness industry drivers should create large demand for EEG wearables, the declining use of purchased wearable fitness products may deter future purchases. A 2013 customer survey found that over 50% of customers stopped using activity tracking devices one year after purchase (17). Thus, poor long term utility of current fitness wearables may prevent EEG wearable technology from fully exploiting the growing fitness industry.

Integration of neuroscience in business research through the emerging field of neuromarketing will broaden the EEG wearable market, but concerns regarding the validity of the results threatens future success of the device in this sector. This concept is illustrated by Frito-Lay’s recent change in packaging (18). Using EEG technology, market researchers at Frito-Lay discovered that matte packets caused less activation of the anterior cingulated cortex when compared to shiny packaging (18). Researchers interpreted the decreased activation as consumers feeling less guilty about consuming the product and this resulted in Frito-Lay changing their packaging (18). Although the field of neuromarketing has promised to deepen our understanding of consumer behaviour, result interpretation issues leave many questioning the validity of the results. One problem faced is reverse inference, inferring a specific cognitive process based on activation of a brain region (19). In the above example, researchers assumed that activation of the anterior cingulated cortex was due to feeling guilty, when in reality many stimuli could have created the same activity. Therefore, although the emergence of neuromarketing created a novel application for EEG wearables, invalidity of result interpretation limits the success of EEG technology in this industry.

Hospitals have shown interest in incorporating mobile technology into common practice but limited funds and privacy issues prevent full acceptance of EEG wearables. Technology has slowly integrated into clinician practice as a recent survey found that 53% of doctors use smart phones in their daily practice and 47% use tablets (20). One of the largest potential uses for EEG wearables in medicine is diagnosing epilepsy and sleep disorders (21). The ability to gain data from patients in their natural environment allows for a more accurate diagnosis and removes the cost of housing patients in hospital (21). Implementing this technology is costly, as it requires hospitals to purchase the device, train staff and patients, and hire IT staff capable of managing the data (20). As well, protection of confidential patient data is a large concern since most wearable devices store the generated data in a cloud service (20). Thus, although there is potential for EEG wearables to increase the efficiency of healthcare services, the current technology presents many barriers to integration of this device.

The current trends in the major market segments of EEG wearables show immense opportunities for the adoption of EEG technology but major limitations of integration pose a large barrier to growth of this industry.

Future Outlook

Although the future of the wearable EEG market has vast opportunities to advance its technology, limitations in implementation of these advances reduces expectations of future growth in this industry

The Wearable EEG market will benefit significantly from advancements in its components and related technologies. The feasibility of wearable EEG’s depends on future improvements in the parts comprising the device. The device consists of multiple electrodes, a power source, a link to an interpretation device, and an ergonomic design (22). Firstly, improvements in the basic makeup of the EEG sensor will allow for the creation of practical and attractive ergonomic designs. These improvements include a smaller, lighter design, more sensitive electrodes and longer lasting batteries that are recharged by wireless induction (23). As well, development of lightweight, durable materials such as reinforced plastics, will allow for the production of ergonomic EEG headbands (24). Secondly, advancements in neuroscience such as mental state and disorder recognition, will increase the functionality of wearable EEG devices (25). These devices can monitor real-time brain activity and allow for immediate intervention by professionals to treat various mental disorders (22). Lastly, the development of wirelessly controlled electronics will significantly increase the demand for wearable EEG technology. Artificial intelligence programs paired with wearable EEG monitoring devices will allow AI programs to link EEG patterns and their consequences (22). The artificial intelligence software will collect EEG pattern data from a person during daily life, and will be able to conclude that a specific EEG pattern is linked with a specific consequence. When sufficient data is collected, AI programs will be able to automate the process by detecting a specific EEG pattern, which will allow people to take action solely utilizing their EEG patterns. Although this seems implausible, wirelessly connected housewares controlled by phone applications are already in the market and artificial intelligence has already developed to a sufficient level to recognize patterns and develop links (26). In conclusion, wearable EEG technology will require further advancements in its technology and its related technology to succeed in the future.

The future market for wearable EEG technology is expected to show slow growth in the next decade due to limited opportunities attainable within ten years. Wearable EEG technology requires further technological advancements in its basic comprising parts and its related technologies. Related technologies such as adaptive pattern recognition software will personalize the EEG device to consumers and increase product demand. Establishment of the required software and an environment conducive to success of EEG wearables is unlikely to occur within the next decade. Lastly, strong market threats within the next decade will also stunt market growth. As many new brain monitoring technologies are being developed and many old technologies are being improved, Wearable EEG technology may become outdated. It is also likely that future popularity of wearable EEG devices will culminate in limitations via government regulations (27). In conclusion, the future market for wearable EEG technology is highly likely to remain stagnant during the next decade.

Thus, there is an opportunity for significant improvements to be made to current EEG sensing wearables but limitations in these improvements prevent them from occurring in the near future and result in stagnant market growth.

Conclusions

Sustainable future growth in the market for EEG sensing wearables is unlikely due to multiple limitations that prevent its integration in market segments. Current science research shows appreciation for the potential uses of EEG wearable technology but also recognizes many limitations in the accuracy of this technology.

The intense competition currently present within the sectors of the EEG wearables market paired with poor consumer acceptance of the device, greatly reduces the growth potential of firms in this industry.

As well, although current trends in applicable market segments create opportunities for EEG wearable growth, it is not probable that the product modifications required for consumer acceptance can be done in the near future. Considering the aforementioned points, the EEG wearables market is not expected to show sustainable growth in the near future.

Authors: Rebecca Hensman, Robert Scott, Ghazal Yazdani, Nive Samuel, Dongkyu Kim

Department of Human Biology, Supervised by Dr. Jayson Parker

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