Brainables: A Brain Device for Boosting Creativity
The wireless device designed by the professor and entrepreneur Balder Onarheim aims to stimulate creativity through electrode-based neurostimulation
The fear of a blank page. The smallest of noises distract. The lightbulb refuses to light up inside our heads. Although creativity is one of the most quintessential human qualities, there are times when our thoughts do not flow and we struggle to concentrate, moments when our brains simply do not cooperate.
The associate professor at the Technical University of Denmark Balder Onarheim is combining neurobiology, which analyzes the inner-workings of the nervous system and its influence on our behavior, with the study of creativity to address these difficulties. The result is PlatoWork, a device which promises to "push" the brain to focus on the task at hand. This headset, which could be defined as a "brainable", transmits microcurrents through electrodes to stimulate specific areas of the brain. Known as non-invasive neurostimulation, this direct current, transcranial stimulation technique has proven useful for conditions like insomnia, depression and cognitive training.
"Neurostimulation works, but it is not magic," according to PlatoScience, the start-up founded by Onarheim where the product is being developed. Our brains carry out their role through the firing of neurons, which produce electric signals. What PlatoScience does, Onarheim explains, is to direct these currents to the desired area of the brain. The device, which is wireless, connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone where the user can use PlatoScience´s app to select the stimulation setting (create, concentrate...). Wearables are no longer limited to taking measurements – now they can provide targeted stimulation as well.
During product development, Onarheim and his team have performed 76 experiments with 39 subjects, all in controlled, laboratory environments. According to the team, the qualitative results (subjects reported a perceived improvement) were positive. The quantitative results varied, however, something that PlatoScience attributes to the particularities of each test subject.
Onarheim aims to take this device to market while also pursuing user validation of the product outside the lab through customer feedback. The first commercial version, which will be available in December of 2017, can be preordered for $299 (253 euros). Is there a risk of a placebo effect? Onarheim defends the validity of neurobiological research and, even if the device did not work for a particular user, just the act of putting on the headset in itself represents a conscious and premeditated decision to modify behavior.
In Onarheim´s view, creativity is the solution to many of our current problems. Yet, while a child is capable of imagining entire worlds, adults are generally not. Creativity, like so many things, erodes with the passage of time, schooling and work. Finding a way to boost creativity, to bring that precious childlike quality back to life, to hack into it, is to Onarheim the first step towards a better future. The rest lies in our brains.