Sunday, 5 October 2014

Amused to tranquillity

Muse headband (src: www.choosemuse.com)

What Is Muse?
Thanks to a friend of mine I have been able to test out a new product, called Muse, for about a week. Here is a review of the device (if you're in Norway you can watch a review here as well). The idea behind Muse is brilliant. It is a tool to help you relax, and get control of your own mind. I guess you can call it a meditation tool. This is what InteraXon, the Canadian company behind the tool, writes about the product:

Muse: the brain sensing headband
A brain fitness tool that helps you do more with your mind, and more with your life, by helping you learn to manage stress, stay calm, and stay focused.
Improve your physical, emotional, and cognitive health. See and feel improvements in your mental state in areas such as focus, composure, productivity, motivation, and emotional intelligence.

Muse, in action (src).

Getting Started
It was quick an easy to get started with Muse, following the manual that comes with the device. I only had a couple of minor issues. One was Bluetooth connectivity related, however that was most likely my phone (Nexus 4) and not Muse. After a couple of retries I did manage to pair Muse and my phone. The other was problems with getting all seven sensors on the Muse headband to be active. The solution to this was to moist my skin before each Muse session.

How It Works
The Muse headband is connected to your phone (or tablet) via Bluetooth. Using the Muse Calm app (Android, iOS) the signals from the headband is interpret. In short, when you start a session the app is calibrated, then you can sit down and relax, doing nothing but counting your breath. Check out choosemuse.com for more info on how it works.

I did in total 14 sessions before I wrote this review. During the sessions I have noticed some minor and some major issues with the device. All sessions, with my findings, are listed at the bottom of this post. First summary of the issues that I did discover.

Positive And Negative Findings

Positive
+ A great concept, and an idea that would be useful to most people that I know.
+ Easy to setup, and get started, following the manual.
+ Using the app becomes addictive, like a game. You want to get a good score.
+ Nice bio feedback (audio feedback), that lets you know how you are doing, while you are relaxing.
+ With this device EEG is taken to your living room, for a low price ($299). Earlier only very expensive equipment could do these measurements. Unfortunately you seem to get what you pay for, read below.

Negative
- The app (Muse Calm) quite large (all in all about 100MB).
- The app a bit slow to start (but got used to this after a couple of times).
- Without moistening my skin I was never able to get all seven headband sensors active.
- No indicator to tell when Muse is fully charged.
- Even though Muse has charged for several hours it never showed above 96% full.
- Approximately the headband dropped 1% charge for each minute used. So less than 100 minutes on each charge.
- No matter what you do, or how active your brain is, the app always record your brain as in calm state for the first few seconds of every session.

Major Issue
- No matter how hard I thought, the app recorded my brain activity as in neutral and calm state, never in active state. This is clearly wrong.

Summary
This is quite a new tool (started with a IndieGogo campaign in 2012, and got released in mid 2014), and I guess InteraXon will keep developing and improving it. I love the idea, I want them to succeed, as this is not only fun and addictive, but also a great way of keeping a sound mind. However, the measurements of the brain signals /  electrical activity along the scalp, seems to at the current state being too inaccurate. Hopefully a new and improved version will be released later on. Then I might very well buy the product myself. Until then it seems like if you want proper EEG measurements a lot more expensive equipment is your only option.

The Different Sessions

Session 1
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.













Session 2
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.








Session 3
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.


Session 4
- 3 minutes long.
- Sat still but this time I tried keeping my brain as active as possible. I though of work, projects, plans and what have you got. I got tired of thinking of too many things.
- After around two minutes I started moving my eyes, while keeping them closed, as shown on the graph this made a big impact on the recordings.



Session 5
- 3 minutes long.
- Played the computer game Counter-Strike Global Offensive, while recording brain activity. Despite being in the middle of a game the session starts off as calm, as all other sessions recorded.
- Note: I tried sitting as still as possible, but I had the sound from the game turned on. This interferes the recording. In session 8 I did a new similar session, with no sound.



Session 6
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.


Session 7
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, drawing for one minute. Then meditated, following the instructions, for about 45 seconds, then drawing again for the rest of the session.



Session 8
- 3 minutes long.
- A new Counter-Strike Global Offensive session, but this time with no sound from the game.



Session 9
- Tried out a 20 minutes session.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.




Session 10
- 7 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, listening to music via headphones. Music played: Carbon Based Lifeforms – Right Where It Ends.



Session 11
- 7 minutes long.
- Sitting, watching a violent action movie. Video watched: Mortal Kombat: Legacy II - Episode 1.



Session 12
- 3 minutes long.
- Tried to keep my mind as active as possible. The first 1 minutes and 15 seconds I tried thinking of as many computer games as possible, then I thought of as many cities as possible, then for the last 45 seconds I thought of as many skiing resorts as possible.
- The app showed this as a very calm session, clearly wrong.



Session 13
- 3 minutes long.
- Sitting, closed eyes, following the instructions.




Session 14
- 3 minutes long.
- Tried to think of as many things starting with "A" as possible.
- Once again the app wrongly shows my brain as having been in a calm mode during the session.











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