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These brainwave-reading headphones are designed to help you focus

The headphones rely on machine learning algorithms that can recognize when your brain looks like it’s concentrating or if it’s distracted.

These brainwave-reading headphones are designed to help you focus
[Photo: courtesy of Neurable]
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A small Boston-based company called Neurable has developed headphones that can help you concentrate by reading your brainwaves and adjusting noise cancellation levels in response.

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The headphones use a ring of sensors around the ear pads to sense your brain’s electrical signals. Based on that information, they can subtly hike up noise cancellation as you begin to reach deeper levels of focus.

According to Ramses Alcaide, Neurable’s cofounder and CEO, the headphones’ corresponding app uses machine learning algorithms to understand when your brainwaves resemble the patterns produced by the brain when it’s concentrating, or if they indicate you’re distracted.

Ramses Alcaide [Photo: courtesy of Neurable]
Based on that information, the headphones—called Enten, which means “to understand” in Spanish—can adjust noise cancellation and suggest the kind of music that might help you concentrate. Meanwhile, the software that runs in the corresponding app provides analytics data on the times of day when you’re most productive and when you need a break.

The Enten headphones concept and technology have their roots in research Alcaide did on brain-computer interfaces and signal processing pipelines while completing his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Michigan. Alcaide says his company holds a patent on the technology contained in the Enten headphones.

Right now, Enten is still at the working prototype stage. Neurable, which was founded in 2015 and has a staff of about 20 people, will start shipping the product next year to people who preordered it.

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[Photo: courtesy of Neurable]
But selling the headphones online might end up being just a small part of Neurable’s business. Alcaide says Neurable has been talking to other hardware companies about licensing its brainwave-reading technology. It’s not hard to imagine a licensee building Neurable’s sensors into, say, the band of a smartwatch. The company is also talking to potential partners that would use the technology for health-related applications, such as helping people deal with anxiety.

Neurable’s Enten is part of a larger category of emerging technology called brain-computer interfaces (BCI), many of which are being developed by large tech companies. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is building a BCI that can be implanted in the brain to allow the control of technology using thoughts. Facebook is working on a BCI wristband that reads the brain’s signals to the hand for the purpose of controlling the features and functions of an augmented reality headset.

But Neurable may represent the leading edge of a different class of consumer products that use a less intrusive form of BCI for more subtle ends. If these applications prove meaningful for users, chances are that features such as brainwave-driven relaxation and music curation will find their way into more mainstream tech products.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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