When television went mainstream in the late 1950’s it provided marketers with an unprecedented means to be seen and achieve massive reach. Likewise, the advent of the internet in the mid-90s offered marketers a new way to be found by, and interact with, potential customers worldwide.
More recently, the emergence of The Internet of Things, the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, and the commercial viability of 3D printing technologies are creating exciting new opportunities for businesses and marketers worldwide.
These nascent technologies will shape the world in ways we can hardly imagine. Of all the technologies on the fringe of the market, some of the most exciting are emerging that harness biofeedback in new and interesting ways.
One best of breed example is EMOTIV’s revolutionary Brain Computer Interface headset that has the potential to fundamentally reshape the way market research is conducted in the future. I sat down with Erica Warp, EMOTIVs Principal Neuroscientist, to better understand this technology and its application.
Erica, can you tell me a little about your award winning technology?
Our EMOTIV EPOC+ and Insight are wearable electroencephalography (EEG) devices that measure the electrical activity of the brain from sensors on the scalp. They are revolutionary because, unlike traditional EEG devices used for medicine or research, they are affordable, portable and easy to use, but still accurately measure what is going on inside someone’s head. They democratize access to high quality brain data which is enabling completely new use cases for this kind of technology.
Medical and research grade EEG devices are tethered to a computer and so EEG recordings have historically been confined to the lab or hospital setting. Our wireless devices allow you to record contextual brain activity while people are going about their daily lives – when they are at the supermarket, at work, watching TV at home, etc.
And you don’t need to be a big research institution or company to get started. You can set up your own EEG research program or start quantifying your own cognitive health for just a few hundred dollars.
Walk me through the practical applications of EPOC’s capabilities
Our devices are able to measure the small voltage fluctuations from the brain’s activity which we can deliver in “raw” form, but this kind of data is hard to interpret. So a big part of our R&D has been developing software that provides a handful of out-of-the-box detections that you can put to use right away.
We have algorithms that pull out Performance Metrics such as engagement, interest, excitement, stress, relaxation and focus, so you can tell what a person is actually feeling in real time. We are able to do this because our devices’ sensors (14 channels for EPOC+ and 5 for Insight) are placed in key areas across the scalp, so we are able to get a full picture of what is going on in all the major lobes of the brain.
We are also able to detect Facial Expressions, like eye blinks, smiles and grimaces, since the devices pick up the electrical activity from the muscles as well. And we have developed software that enables the wearer to train Mental Commands to control machines like lights, wheelchairs or games just with the power of their own thoughts.
The devices also have 9-axis inertial sensors in them, so you can measure head rotation as well. All these software features mean you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to start getting real value from brain monitoring right away.
What progress have you made in getting EPOC into use globally?
We have seen an explosion of applications being developed using our technology all across the world and have a community of over 70k researchers and developers in over 120 countries. We have worked closely with the scientific community in the development and validation of our products and are proud to say that EMOTIV devices have been cited in over 1,500 published research studies.
Our community SDK also means that any developer in the world can easily start building applications that integrate brain monitoring. Having such a broad reach is really exciting from a research perspective too in terms of the massive bank of brain data that we are collecting from people of various backgrounds and demographics.
So what does all the above actually mean? What will be the impact of your tech?
The broad range of applications that this technology enables is really exciting and continues to grow. For example, as an individual, you can learn how your brain is responding as you go through your day and optimize your brain’s health and performance.
Developers can create reactive and personalized experiences that mirror or change people’s mood in domains like gaming, music, and VR/AR. Those with disabilities can write or control a wheelchair using mental commands. Scientists are able to do new kinds of contextual neuroscience research, so we are building a fuller picture of the science of the human brain.
And this technology adds in a whole new level to market research and usability research, since companies can directly measure brain responses to products and experiences, without needing to buy an EEG rig for 10s of thousands of dollars. The ability to evaluate people’s emotions and motivations and understand what controls their behavior is now much more accessible.
How easy is it for brands / marketers to put into use?
Very easy. Ease of use has been one of our priorities from the start. Our devices are simple and quick to put on and neither require sticky gel for good contact. The EPOC+ uses saline, like contact solution, and can be set up in a few minutes.
For our Insight, we developed hydrophilic polymer sensors that draw moisture from the environment so you can start collecting data with this device in less than a minute. In contrast, other EEGs can take an hour or more to set up.
We’ve thought a lot about what brands and marketers would want to monitor inside the brain and that is why we developed Performance Metrics like engagement, interest and excitement to make it easy. The data we return is time series information for all these metrics.
By cross referencing this information with what the subject was looking at or experiencing at different moments in time, you can quickly begin learning what parts of a game were most engaging, what products were most appealing or what drew people’s attention the most, for example.
How do you see market research evolving in light of this new way to capture insight?
Being able to monitor brain activity will allow market researchers to better understand their customers and companies to make more informed product and strategic decisions. Techniques like questionnaires and focus groups can be valuable, but humans are surprisingly quite bad at self-reporting and avoiding groupthink.
Tracking other biometric data like heart rate or pupil dilation can provide some information about someone’s internal state, but results can be hard to interpret since different emotions like excitement and fear can elicit the same physiological response. Brain monitoring gets to the source of someone’s emotions, preferences and motivations and can help us make better predictions about human behavior.
We see a future where brain wearables will be as prevalent as smartphones are today. In this scenario you can imagine how much we will be able to learn about the human brain, especially when coupled with other advancing technologies like eye tracking and VR/AR – and not just brains in general, but individual brains.
Access to this kind of information about what is going on inside our heads will raise the bar in the marketing field as it opens up tremendous possibilities for the development of more targeted products and effective campaigns.