Tag Archives: neurosky

Toys are serious fun

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Boys prefer helicopters?

What might be the most revolutionary technology poking its nose into the market right now is just a toy. NeuroSky makes a headset that controls devices by reading your brainwaves. Their first shot at a product was a tiara with cat ears that reacted to the wearer’s mood. A big hit with girls. A helicopter for the boys followed.

There’s a long and proud tradition of breakthrough technology getting its first consumer foothold in toy stores. Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of Pong. It began in arcades game but quickly became a home game.

Pong was the launching pad for video games, personal computers and, after a few early adopters forgot to turn it off, screen savers. It was four years ahead of the Apple I. Its descendants – like the Atari 400, my first personal computer – were early Silicon Valley market leaders.

Breakthrough technologies first move through a toy phase because no one is really sure what to do with it or is willing to rely on unstable products for anything except a moment’s entertainment. Toys grab our interest. A lot of the value comes from figuring out what to do with them.

When Wham-O (another Californian garage start-up) introduced the Frisbee, there was nothing much to do with it except toss it back and forth. It caught on because the heavy lifting of product development was done for free. And for fun.

Toys drive technology because the cost of failure is low and the intrinsic value is high. Companies like NeuroSky, Sphero and Road Narrows are learning while they make a living. That’s how you get a head start on the land rush into completely new industries.

Headset turns thought into deed

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Taking flight on wings of fancy.

The ultimate input and control method is a direct connection to your brain. NeuroSky has just such a device on the market. It's a reasonably sleek headset that reads your alpha and beta brain waves, and then translates the readings into commands that are passed on to whatever you're trying to control.

Their breakout product last year was the Necomimi – fuzzy cat ears that attach to the headset and then move up or down or wiggle according to your mood. The company says they've sold hundreds of thousands of them at a hundred bucks a pop.

At the Showstoppers event tonight at CES, they demonstrated a model helicopter that you can control just by thinking about it. It's still a novelty, but it's a lot more impressive than cat ears.

They're looking for developers who can take it to the next level. The newest version of the headset costs $99 and they have an API available.

At the AT&T Hackathon this past weekend, one of the winners built an app that used a NeuroSky headset to track the wearer's mood and then direct calls accordingly. If your brainwaves show you're distracted, the call gets routed to voicemail without further vexing you.

NeuroSky is a major player in the medical EEG space already, and they want to break into the mass market. They're also thinking about branching out into cardio monitoring devices for consumer applications. So far, it's all for fun. But using your thoughts and vital signs to control the world around you will quickly become serious business.