Neuroscientists and consumer electronics experts from MIT, Harvard University, and Stanford University in the US have teamed up to bring their new nerve-stimulating smartphone device to the market.
Developed by their biotechnology startup, Thync, the device consists of a pair of small, lightweight electrodes that plug into your smartphone and are placed on either your temple, neck or the back of your ear. Once you turn it on, the device will deliver gentle and almost-imperceptible electrical currents to the nerves and muscles just beneath your skin.
The device will deliver one of two very different feelings depending on where you place the electrodes. If placed on either your temple or the back of your neck, you'll experience a calm, relaxed feeling, which the researchers likened to the after-effects of having a couple of lazy beers in the sun, or that slightly sleepy feeling you can get from taking an antihistamine like Benadryl. But if you’re more interested in waking yourself up, you can place the electrodes behind your ear and experience a short burst of energy, just like you’d get from drinking a can of Red Bull.
"When I tried it, I felt relaxed but also clear-headed - more as if I’d meditated or received a good massage than had a couple of drinks," says Kevin Bullis at MIT Technology Review. "The effect took a few minutes to kick in, but then it lasted for about 45 minutes - although I’m told that varies from person to person.”
Bloomberg Businessweek journalist Brad Stone also got a preview of the device, and said that “the familiar knot of stress in my stomach evaporated” when he used it for 12 minutes on the “calm vibe” setting.
The type of neurostimulation that the device uses - called transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) - is most often used to deliver low-level electrical currents directly to a specific area of the brain. But the team, led by neuroscientist Jamie Tyler from Arizona State University, has figured out how to externally target specific nerves and muscles through the skin to achieve the same results.
The device has already been tested on 100 people as part of a study funded by Thync and run by biomedical engineer Marom Bikson from the City College of New York. According to Bullis, Bikson reported that the results of the study indicated "with a high degree of confidence" that the device does indeed deliver energising and calming effects, but how deeply these were felt varied from user to user. "For some people - not everyone - the effect is really profound," Bikson told Bullis. "Within minutes, they’re feeling significantly different in a way that is as powerful as anything else I could imagine short of a narcotic."
The team is expecting to have the device on the market for consumers as early as next year, and while we're yet to see a picture of the device, perhaps it'll be similar to the one pictured above. This is the Emotiv neuro-headset, which, according to Sarah Buhr at Techcrunch, can not only detect your mood and interests and show you your brain activity in real time, it can also allow you to move objects with your mind. "It takes some work," says Burh, "but it also helps you use your Jedi training skills to move objects with just the power of thought."