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This Brain-Monitoring Device Will Keep Your Phone From Ruining Your Focus

The Phylter scans the blood flow in your brain and then tells your phone to shut up.

Sometimes you want to see phone notifications. Other times, when you’re deep in thought, you’d prefer to avoid interruptions. Phylter is a new device that actually monitors your brain and switches off all those annoying phone notifications whenever it senses your concentrating or are otherwise busy.

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The device, from Robert Jacob, a Tufts University computer scientist, measures brain activity using an infrared sensor. The user wears a headband which shines infrared light into the forehead and measures any light that’s reflected. This allows it to determine blood flow through the prefrontal cortex. This data is used to determine whether you’re working, and it then cuts off messages and other interruptions whenever it thinks you’re busy

Jacob’s team had test subjects play video games while wearing Google Glass headsets and sent them notifications. The subjects decided whether or not to respond to these notifications, and the researchers used this to calibrate which messages were important and which could be saved for later.

“Imagine a system where you have a little dial and you can tell it, ‘Now I’m kind of busy, so leave me alone,’” Jacob told New Scientist

Think of Phylter as like the Do Not Disturb mode on your phone, only it switches itself on and off automatically based on the importance of the message, and whether you’re too busy to be interrupted.

Recent research shows that just the sound of a notification is as distracting as taking a phone call, even if you ignore it. The Phylter could fix this, although the band that you have to wear around your head limits its practicality.

The technology, though, could be applied in other cases. For instance, a future Apple Watch could use it to switch off notifications when your blood is pumping, because it knows you’re in the middle of a workout. In fact, personal technology–like smartwatches and fitness trackers–is exactly where Jacob’s research is most likely to see practical application, as these devices get ever more intimate access to our bodies and minds.

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About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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