EEG & BCI Crowdfunding Landscape
Over the past few years, we’ve seen many new consumer EEG devices entering the market. To a point where it started raising some concerns among the scientific community seeing lots of buzz in the media around “mind-control” this and “though-control” that. While many other articles talk about the basics behind EEG & BCI like this one posted recently, I will focus here only on the crowdfunding side of things assuming that you’ve heard about “consumer EEG devices” before.
The goal of this post is to reflect on the current state of consumer EEG/BCI crowdfunding space. First, we’ll look at some numbers. Second, we’ll talk about neurotechnology and emerging fields. Third, we’ll look at the different trends. Finally, we’ll end with my personal view and predictions (cuz why not?).
Crowdfunded EEG & BCI Projects Since 2012
Before we dive right in and talk about them, I’d like to start by reminding you that a few years ago, the field of “neurotechnology” was very hard to get into. Actually, it didn’t even exist few years ago. Oh, wait… It still doesn’t exist according to most English dictionaries.
Yet the term is becoming more and more popular.
My point here is that even if consumer EEG devices have been around for a few years now, the field itself is still in its infancy. There’s no doubt that neurotechnologies (brain & nervous system -related technologies) will be more and more present in our lives and play an increasingly important role in our society, but we are still at the very beginning of this exciting journey.
“It’s Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future”
This quote is often credited to Niels Bohr or Samuel Goldwyn or K. K. Steincke or Yogi Berra or Nostradamus or … But in any case, the future is indeed hard to predict! One model used quite frequently with emerging technology is the Gartner Hype Cycle so let’s have a look.
Do you think we’ve reached the peak of inflated expectations yet? Are we currently going towards the trough of disillusionment? Are we already are in the slope of enlightenment? (feel free to give your opinion in the comments below!)
Consumer EEG — The Big 4
It’s difficult to talk about consumer EEG devices without talking about the big 4 that literally invented the EEG consumer market and paved the way for others to join in. As you might know, Emotiv & Neurosky were the 2 first consumer EEG devices to get some traction and make some real noise pre-2010. A few years later, 2 other players made their entry, namely InteraXon with the Muse and OpenBCI with its open source BCI board.
With different segments of the consumer market, they seem to have found a balance to co-exist and lead the market with a fair competition.
What do we want? Sleep! When do we want it? Now!
Clearly, the current trend gaining in popularity is Sleep. NeuroDreamer, Kokoon, Neuroon, Aurora iWinks, iBand+ & Sleep Shepherd claim that their devices can help you sleep and improve your sleep quality. With different form factors, price ranges and features, it will be interesting to see which devices take the lead on the market. Not to mention that some other players are also in the EEG-based sleep device market, like Dreem by Rythm who did not make a crowdfunding campaign, but raised $11M last year.
In the hyper-productive world we live in, where the 100h work week is the new 40h work week, it is no surprise that the remaining 8h of sleep needs to be optimized! It is 1/3 of our day after all… How much is optimizing 1/3 of your life worth?
We’ve also seen other devices trying to address different segments of the market, like the
- Melon: Acquired by Daqri in 2015.
- FocusBand & Neeuro: Brain Training. (I’ll write a separate post on Brain Training because that field is very interesting and has a lot of potential but currently sees all sorts of claims (and critics).)
- Aware: “Join the Hearable Revolution!” they say. Aware is an in-ear EEG device.
- Super Brain II: I didn’t know it was legit to run campaigns on both Indegogo and Kickstarter few months apart — even before shipping the first crowdfunding — and using a slightly different title and from 2 different countries. Red Flag?
- Melomind: Mindfulness. The EEG headphones are marketed as a tool to help you relax and cope with stress.
What about Failed Campaigns?
Is every crowdfunding campaign with an EEG and/or BCI idea guaranteed to be successfully funded? Of course not. Some of them were actually pretty funny (I use “funny” here not to use bad words), like the EEG device for dogs No More Woof claiming to be “the first device to translate animal thoughts into human language”.
Because it is an important topic, I’ll write another post on “Consumer EEG & BCI — The Red Flags” giving some examples of companies that might be trying to surf the buzz to make some quick bucks. This tendency obviously goes beyond Crowdfunding campaign, but even on the stock market, like Mind Solutions Inc (OTCMKTS:VOIS).
Obviously, I’m in no position to say if a product is good or bad and/or if a company has good intention or not, but I want to encourage discussions and dissemination of information about consumer neurotechnology. I believe that by having educated discussions good products will naturally stand out and bad products will be called for what they are.
- 2017 -
As I’m writing this, Mindset Headphones is only few days from concluding its (successfully funded) Kickstarter. The device claims to help you to focus at work and train your brain to avoid distractions.
… After Sleep, will Productivity be the next big trend?
Yes, I do believe that we will have bio/neuro-sensors. Yes, I do believe that we will be monitored 24/7. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the value proposition of these devices and the tradeoff — form factor & comfort vs added value in my life.
New waves of neurotech devices will hit the crowdfunding platforms over the next few years: more Headphones with EEG, more Hearable (in-ear EEG), EEG & Biosensors for VR, ...
Brain stimulation should also be more popular on crowdfunding platforms in a couple of years, once safety, efficacy, and regulation are a little clearer on the matter. Brain stimulation is a very hot field right now (you can read my recap of NYC Neuromodulation 2017 conference). Fisher Wallace just successfully crowdfunded their new brain stim device for VR.
But one that I’m also excited about, is that in ~3–4 years we should see a new wave of Kickstarters (& Indiegogo) but not (only) using EEG, but rather fNIRS. I invite you to watch Mary Lou Jepsen’s TEDx Talk and a nice piece from IEEE Spectrum Eliza Strickland on Jepsen’s mission for consumer telepathy.
Innovation is all about intrinsic motivation(s)
If you don’t want my personal opinion and 2 cents on where we’re going, you can skip this section (the good stuff is unfortunately over).
It’s all about the intrinsic motivation(s). Too often people judge a technology for what it is at that very moment in time and not for what it can be and why it has to be. But I think it’s wrong. We need to look at the motivation behind the idea to predict trends and successes. Facebook wasn’t very exciting for the very first few people to join. A personal computer wasn’t very useful with only a calculator and a text editor for thousands of dollars. The telephone was a silly idea before reaching critical mass (why would I want a wire to be connected to my neighbors, really?). But the success of such technologies was somewhat predictable because they are all exploiting our intrinsic motivations, needs and even flaws. The telephone was predictable because we needed (and wanted) to communicate more and more and at scale and distance. The success of Facebook was also predictable because we are perverted creatures (sorry if it sounds harsh, but we are. Why do you think reality TV shows are so popular?) we like to see others and show off ourselves. In an age of opportunity, success & fame we needed such a platform to fulfill that need (flaw?!) of ours. That such a platform, giving us the opportunity to look at our ex-girlfriend pictures anonymously and to show off our successes, would be called Facebook and would be led by Mark Zuckerberg, of course, nobody could have guessed that. But that such a platform would happen and be successful? That was predictable. So let’s take a look at our current motivations, aspirations, needs and flaws in this millennial era. Productivity & Cognitive skills are definitely a must. There is a talent war out there (just in case you didn’t notice). We want to be smarter, to read faster, to learn faster, to improve our memory, to be more creative. Add to it the fact that we’ll be living longer and working older, and it becomes easy to predict that our brain will be the center of attention for the coming decades. Therefore, it is predictable that neurotechnology will play an important role in years to come and that these intrinsic motivations will push us to develop new brain-related technologies to better ourselves.
Governments, Foundations, Organizations, DARPA and even “the 1%” are putting more and more money in brain-related projects. The journey is just getting started!
If you’d like to try, experiment, and discuss more in depth about these devices, I’d like to invite you to join the NeuroTechX community. If you are a student and/or a group of students working with some of these devices and that kind of projects, check out the NeuroTechX Student Clubs Initiative!
If you’d like any subject (neurotech-related) to be covered, please let me know and we’ll explore it for you.