What if you could strap on a wearable that could adjust your energy level, stress level, or ability to concentrate directly, without requiring you to lace up your running shoes, suck down a cup of coffee or tipple a glass of vino?
You might not have to wonder for long because mood-altering wearables are in testing, and heading towards becoming a consumer product. One of the first will be from a startup company, Thync, which announced yesterday that it aims to bring consumer brain-tweaking wearables to market.
Thync has been in stealth mode for three years; it pulled back the curtains on Wednesday, announcing that it has raised $13 million from Khosla Ventures and other investors, and intends to give other mind-altering substances like caffeine and alcohol some serious competition.
Thync says it is using “neurosignalling,” that is, a form of transcranial direct-current stimulation designed to shift a person’s brain waves in order to make her feel more energized or more relaxed. The company has tested the gadget, which goes on the head, not the wrist, on 2000 people to date. It has approval to do such research, but getting broader approval to put the device on the open consumer market may take a while.
Thync’s technology was developed at Harvard and Stanford; the company was founded by Isy Goldwasser, a serial entrepreneur who also founded Symyx Technologies, and Jamie Tyler, an associate professor of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. Thync’s website doesn’t offer a lot of detail; it states “Thync Vibes are intelligent waveforms delivered via neurosignaling. You select Vibes on-demand for your shift to an energized, relaxed or focused state.”
Some have questioned the safety of brain-stimulating devices. I tried a prototype of one last year, a gadget called Focus intended to increase the focus of videogamers, and found the experience decidedly unpleasant. So I don’t think I’ll be an early adopter on this one; even when it gets to market, I’m likely to wait a bit to let the company work the kinks out of it. In the meantime, I’ll order a new pair of running shoes, grind some coffee, and keep the wine cellar stocked.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.