Brain imaging will make health products smarter

Brain neuronsTechnology is changing the way we monitor our health. We track our bodies performance during sports, have smartphone apps to monitor our sleep patterns and measure our body fat percentage using body fat scales.

The brain is uncharted territory… or is it?

We’ve been able to accurately track our heart rate, using a consumer product, since 1977. In that year, Polar introduced the first heart rate monitor that had an accuracy comparable to an EKG (electrocardiography).

The human brain is obviously much harder to monitor. We have various techniques to record brain-activity, each of them offering distinct advantages and disadvantages. The real challenge however is interpreting the data.

Although we only understand a fraction of the functioning of our brain, some companies are already trying to develop consumer-grade products to let you take a look inside at a democratic price. The Emotiv headset and the crowd-funded Melon headband both offer a complete solution that lets you measure brain activity using EEG (electroencephalography).

This is certainly an area where fNIRS could shine. Its low cost, size and power usage could lead to small and unobstructive headsets. A multimodal product combining fNIRS with EEG, could even further improve the accuracy of the already existing products. And we’ll be one step closer to measuring our performance wherever we are or whatever we’re doing..

What will happen next?

I’ll be honest, predicting the future isn’t easy (or wise, for that matter). My best guess is that we’ll certainly see brain data being used to ease our everyday life or make it more efficient in the near future. If fNIRS will be the prevailing technology or not remains to be seen.

2 thoughts on “Brain imaging will make health products smarter”

  1. Hi!

    A comment on this last question in your article. You already heard about the human brain project, I guess? Just saw another talk of one of the directors, stressing the importance (and current lack of) computational power to be able to accurately model the human brain. While success on this is far in the future, how about connecting your project to the internet (yep, of course slightly scary as you mention in your previous post)? You could then correlate behaviour of millions of people to their measured brain activity. This might already give some interesting results.

    PS: how’s the project going?
    PS2: always available for dinner @imec if you’d enjoy a discussion ^_^

    • Robbrecht,

      The Human Brain Project is an interesting project, but I don’t think it can benefit from a crowdsourced fNIRS project.

      The first problem lies in the fact that fNIRS (at the moment) isn’t accurate enough and hasn’t been approved as a medical imaging technique.

      The second problem would be that you (as a researcher) need to be sure that those “millions of people” around the world properly use the device. Positioning of the device is crucial, otherwise you’re trying to correlate data from different brain regions.

      The third problem is that fNIRS has mostly been tested for recognising very basic actions (finger tapping, stress level, …) and local measurements (as opposed to a measurement of complex actions and full brain scan).

      It’s however an interesting discussion and I’m going to dedicate one of my following blog posts to it.

      We’ll continue our discussion then. 😉


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