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May 14, 2013

Announcement: Are NeuroSky Products Just A Gimmick?

Like many people that use computers or smart phones you may want to use your computing power for personal development such as increasing your brain power, or you may even want to learn about Neuroscience itself. There are many products that claim to help with the personal development side, but possibly only the NeuroSky products claim to be an introduction to Neuroscience as well.

NeuroSky say they have technology that can measure brainwaves for your attention levels, meditation and whether you are blinking. They further claim that measuring these allows applications to be built that should increase your brain power or help teach you about Neuroscience.

It sounds like bold claims, but is it? Does this technology work and are the applications effective at improving your brain power as well as fun to use? NeuroSky makes use of EEG and EMG technology they have adapted to home use and I’ve researched NeuroSky and their products including Mindwave and Mindwave Mobile and should be able to help you decide whether any are right for you.

What Is The Science Behind NeuroSky?

Electroencephalography (EEG) and Electromyography (EMG) are the scientific names given to the measurements behind NeuroSky products. EEG is the recording of electrical activity around the scalp and EMG is the recording of electrical activity in skeletal muscles.


An example of an electorncephalograph used to measure brain waves

A Liverpool based physician called Richard Caton (1842-1926) was the first person to present papers on electrical activity to the British Medical Journal in 1875. He had detected activity around the heads of Rabbits and Monkeys. However it was Hans Berger (1973-1941) who first recorded a human using EEG.

Brain waves are made up of different frequency ranges called Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Theta, each of which relates to a different brain state. NeuroSky products mostly measure Alpha and Beta waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation and calmness, whereas Beta waves are associated with concentration or alertness.

Work with EMG was first documented before EEG as long ago as 1666 by Francesco Redi when he discovered a muscle in the Electric Eel that generated electricity. It wasn’t until the last century that EMG had developed alongside EEG to be able to make accurate human recordings.


A Baby hooked up for an EEG with gel electrodes

Laboratory EEG and EMG make use of many gel covered electrodes to get their readings. Measurements also have to be performed in tightly controlled rooms as interference from other devices including the humble light bulb can affect measurements.

This problem with interference along with the inconvenience of having to smear electrodes with gel, have probably been the two major factors that have kept EEG in the laboratory and out of the home.

How Does NeuroSky Claim To Conquer The Inconvenience of Gel And Interference?

NeuroSky have developed a dry electrode which, assuming it is effective, removes the need to use gel. In so doing it removes that particular barrier of inconvenience. The rival Emotiv product still requires the use of Gel and as a consequence has far less traction in the market place.

A laboratory EEG places electrodes in 19 regions arranged around the scalp in what is called the International 10-20 System. Different parts of the brain deal with different sensory activity. The rear of the brain deals with visual scences, whereas the sides near the ears are auditory. The front of the brain in positions known as FP1 and FP2 deal with executive decision making.


International 10-20 System for electrode placement

NeuroSky has just one electrode that is placed on the position known as FP1, As such they can only really deal with meditation and alertness (Alpha and Beta waves) through EEG and muscle spasms associated with blinking using EMG.

Their electronic equipment makes use of Notch filters to prevent the electricity grid from causing interference and other filters for other known wavelengths such as the pulse or muscle spasms. A clip attaches to your ear lobe which acts as a reference point to help eliminate noise reduction.

Without going into the detail, a Notch filter shuts out certain frequencies in a very narrow spectrum

Can NeuroSky Teach Anything About Neuroscience?

NeuroSky markets products for use in universities and have a long list of university partners including Stanford and Yale. There is a professor called Richard Reilly at Trinity College Dublin who has said:

“We have been impressed with the quality of data from the MindSet, compared to our gold-standard EEG acquisition system. It has opened future possibilities for the remote monitoring of patients’ activity – a great benefit in patient care”.

The University of Dakota has been similarly impressed with the low-cost of the research grade equipment. Assistant Professor Richard Van Eck commented:

“Up until this point, conducting this type of research was cost prohibitive to almost every university except those with substantial resources”

I have also met a few university students online who are using NeuroSky Mindwave in their dissertation. Personally, I think these individuals provide stronger evidence that Mindwave can be used to learn and study Neuroscience than what is found on the NeuroSky website. They all confirm the NeuroSky products work very well.

Jack Whitsitt created the above Art video using the Neurosky headset. He learned enough about NeuroSky and Neuroscience through their products and online information. There are other examples of open source projects as well as individuals who have created their own apps for use with NeuroSky Mindwave.

This is further evidence to suggest at least some parts of Neuroscience can be learnt with these products without having to study for a degree in the subject. According to Jack, NeuroSky have some very good resources for developers. He says on his website ” Neurosky has some great documentation and have provided examples from which I have –heavily– borrowed.”

How About Improving Brain Power?

This is less conclusive, but it certainly won’t create harm, and there is fun to be had on the way. Working with some 150 universities has allowed NeuroSky to create the NeuroSky Mindwave and NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile and package them with 10 applications aimed at improving personal control over your mind. There is a slightly different collection for each device. These applications are not sophisticated, mostly aimed at young children, but reports around the internet have been vary favourable about NeuroSky Mindwave and related products.

Time magazine have voted Mattel Mindflex, which uses NeuroSky inside of it, as one of the best 100 games of all time.

There is anecdotal evidence that NeuroSky Mindwave improves brain power. Venture Beat tells us a story about a mother with a 21 year old boy who suffers from cerebral palsy. She bought him a NeuroSky headset and he was able to play games that helped him control his attention level. He could then answer Yes or No to his mother’s questions, including telling her he loved her for the first time.

My experience and many reviewers from respectable magazines and TV programmes have concluded the Mindwave appears to improve their attention or focus. I find myself getting the same feeling of concentration I get in the games, when I’m in a work meeting and need to really focus on what is going on.

Anything I Should Know Before Buying?

NeuroSky Mindwave and NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile are the company’s own products, but they forge close links with their partners and there are a number of other products available to buy. The Mattel Mindflex game mentioned earlier is just one such product.

If you want to learn about Neuroscience or fancy building something based on the technology then the NeuroSky products are the way to go because the applications give good feedback and there is a well documented API if you want to experiment further.

Most of the products make use of AAA batteries so you should get some handy. Depending on the product, they can last between 5 to 8 hours.

The products are new to the UK market in 2013 and Amazon is the only established retailer that sells NeuroSky products. As a result they can take a couple more days than normal to be delivered. You should be wary of other retailers unless they are well known to you.

1 Comment

  • I will like to obtain validation and reliability statistics of NeuroSky Mindwave for future research purposes, and I will be grateful if you will provide the related research materials.

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