Speaker Profile: Interaxon’s Ariel Garten On Muse, The Art Of Zen—And Mind Games

Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite’s signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference.

Imagine if you could train your brain to focus more deeply, learn to meditate, and sleep better—all with a wearable. With the Muse headband, that can be a reality.

The brain behind this brain-sensing headband is Ariel Garten, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based startup InteraXon. With backgrounds in both fashion design and psychology, Garten envisioned a wearable that was both therapeutic and performance art all at once.

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

In 2012, Garten introduced Muse on Indiegogo, and the pledges poured in, nearly doubling the campaign’s funding goals. InteraXon launched the headband last year, and since then, it has earned rave reviews as thousands of customers use it to gameify their moments of Zen. In advance of Garten’s panel at Wearable World Congress, I spoke with her about Muse, and what’s next for the device going forward. 

Commercially, Muse has been around for eight months now. How are things going? 

We did $3.5 million in sales just in our first few months on the market. The average active uses it 5.8 times per week. We have constant testimonials from people telling us it’s improved their sleep, their stress, their productivity. We have over 50 research relationships going. The Mayo Clinic is about to do a study with Muse on cancer-care patients undergoing surgery, to demonstrate improvements in recovery time by using Muse.

The application for Muse was just relaunched on April 16. It’s the new software version 2.0. It’s a beautiful, growing software program now written in native Android and native iOS.

Does your artistic background continue to influence your work on Muse? What about your background in psychology?

Muse is something that is both technologically very adept, but also a very emotional experience. It translates your brain waves audibly and allows you to listen to the sound of your own mind. It increases your sense of agency, letting you free yourself from the limitations of thoughts that you have in your head. As an artist, that’s what you’re always doing—you’re teaching people to see the world differently, to increase your freedom.

See also: How Mind-Controlled Games Work – And Why It’s Way, Way Bigger Than That

As for psychotherapy, really what it comes down to is learning to manage your own thoughts and your own mind. Our brains are our worst enemies, and we make up stories all the time about what’s going wrong, why we shouldn’t do these things and who doesn’t like us. That causes anxiety. With Muse, you learn to manage those thoughts, so you can become a lot more productive and a lot more successful.

What’s next for Muse?

Using the Muse with NeuralDrift, a collaborative multiplayer neurogame based on brain-computer interfaces, at the Montreal WearHacks hackathon.

We have a big developer community building. The first couple of third party applications for Muse are already in the Android store. We have people who are building clinical applications for kids with ADHD [Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder], and people building games that you play with your brain. For us at InteraXon, Muse will have more apps for getting deeper into yourself, like meditation practice. From developers, you’ll see more apps building off of the world around yourself.

Making brain stuff is hard. The way you give feedback, the way you teach somebody what’s going on, the way you make it accurate—that all makes [building] apps based on brain-sensing technology more difficult. That’s why we’re working on powerful tools for our developers.

However, it’s so worth it. The brain governs our entire experience of life. [Just] look at the problems society faces—one in nine kids with ADHD, billions of dollars lost due to workers’ poor sleep, the U.S. being the most anxious country in the world—or even irrational behaviors based on greed and fear. All of these things begin in our brain. If we have the ability to understand and manage our own cognitive responses, we can solve all of those problems. 

To hear more from Ariel Garten and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco.

Photos courtesy of InteraXon

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