Virtual reality headsets tune into users brainwaves to train people faster

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

As many people worry about the rise of AI and automation, and the effect they will have on jobs, new faster and smarter ways to educate and train our children and our workforces are emerging.

 

Before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games members of the US Olympic team turned to technology, specifically brain training neuro-tech, to help them fine tune their cognitive behaviours and responses, and boost their olympic performance by up to 80 percent. And in order to achieve this fantastic improvement, where most Olympic coaches think just eking out a 2 percent gain is a game changing feat, they turned to a company called Halo Neuroscience, a company that used a mixture of Brain Machine Interfaces combined with brainwave modulation “know how.” In short the Halo Neuroscience didn’t just train the Olympians in a completely new way, they tapped into their brainwave patterns and changed both the way they learned, and the way they responded to events – with staggering results.

 

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Now another rock star startup in the space, who recently partnered with HTC, Neurable, based out of Boston, has teamed up with Vectorform, a “software development and digital design firm,” and between the two of them they’re going to be using their combined smarts, one in neuroscience and neuro-tech, and the other in software, to create immersive Virtual Reality (VR) training environments for the automotive, healthcare and utility sectors, where VR headsets embedded with Brain Machine Interfaces, like the ones HTC demonstrated last year, monitor and modulate users brainwave activity to more realistic, and more effective, learning and training environments.

And if they pull it off, which they have a good chance of doing, then not only could this change how we educate people, something I discuss in my Future of Education and Training 2020 to 2070 report, but it would also revolutionise how humans learn, and how fast we learn, which in an age filled with AI and automation, could be a game changer as people try to switch jobs at speed as different careers dead end.

Ashley Howell, Vectorform’s associate experience director, says the partnership “evolved from a general interest in measuring brain signals in an immersive space, and grew from there.”

In a 2017 Xconomy interview, Neurable CEO Ramses Alcaide said his company’s BCI technology allows users to control software and devices with their thoughts. The company’s neuro-technology platform does this, he explained, by classifying brain signals and then combining algorithms and neurological insights to discern user intent in real time.

 

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Today, Alcaide says Neurable is the first BCI platform to detect what users are focused on and can trigger an interaction depending on where the user’s attention is, and this is why I’m writing about them.

Over the past year, Neurable has expanded its signal-processing capabilities, and Alcaide says the company now incorporates “enabling software” that can be used with any brain signal.

“That has opened a lot of opportunities,” he adds. However, Neurable’s ultimate goal is to realize the functionality and promise of BCI technology by developing it for real-world applications.

“Being able to deliver beyond the hype has always been the biggest BCI challenge,” Alcaide says.

The company, which launched in 2015, now has 16 people working in its downtown Boston office, and he declined to say whether Neurable has raised new investment capital in the past two years, but says the company is “doing well financially.”

As part of its partnership with Vectorform, Neurable will give the company access to its software development kit for use in creating pilot tests. As far as potential BCI projects go, Vectorform would like to explore mixed-reality job training, automotive uses that could reduce distracted driving by allowing drivers to use thoughts or glances to interact with their vehicles, and healthcare applications in which people with physical challenges could complete tasks using their brain waves.

 

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Vectorform intends to initially use Neurable’s technology to create virtual “high consequence” workplace training modules for jobs in which real-world training might be too difficult or dangerous, Howell says. Southeast Michigan utility company DTE, one of Vectorform’s customers, will take part in the workplace training pilot project.

“How do we really gauge learning?” Howell asks. “We’re trying to see how Neurable’s brain-computer interface application shows effectiveness.”

Howell says Vectorform is developing a dashboard that shows how trainees are performing as well as how they’re improving over time, and more specifically Vectorform is examining the “Emotional layer” in the brain that appears when we feel confident about the tasks we perform, she explains, and how that emotional layer corresponds to learning.

“There are a lot of potential applications,” Howell says. “We’re looking forward to seeing where Neurable goes. We’re in the beginning stages [of the partnership], and it’s just going to continue to evolve.”

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