Mind over matter
Geoff Mackellar


Mind over matter

August 13, 2020


When Brazilian disability advocate and quadriplegic Rodrigo Hübner Mendes became the first to drive an F1 racing car entirely with his mind, Emotiv’s technology was right there with him in the driver’s seat.

Emotiv is on the frontier in developing scalable and user-friendly wearable electroencephalography (EEG) technologies for neuroscience, neuromarketing, cognitive performance and brain-computer interface (BCI). Mendes used the company’s award-winning Emotiv EPOC+ headset, part of a now expansive portfolio of hardware and software products and IP.

The bioinformatics pioneer was founded in 2011 by alumnus Geoff Mackellar (PhD 1985) who heads its Macquarie University Incubator-based R&D hub and Vietnamese-Australian CEO Tan Le. Armed with deep experience in neurotechnology and an earlier version of the EEG headset, the pair hit the ground running, bootstrapping the entire operation with Le working from her San Francisco home, Mackellar from his Sydney basement, and a small software development team in Hanoi.

“We’d shipped EPOC headsets to over 100 countries within the first six months,” Mackellar recalls. We now have more than 100,000 users worldwide. I can’t think of a country we haven’t got product in.”

The product is cost-effective, credible, and addresses a serious market gap, filling the void between cheap ‘toys’ that don’t actually read brainwaves to complex, expensive research-grade systems. Mackellar says the uses are infinite, whether for single consumers or the research industries that comprise Emotiv’s primary markets: neuroscience, psychology and marketing groups.

“Because we can leverage information directly from people’s brains about how they are feeling and reacting to things, we can get a far more objective measure than focus groups, for example. We’ve looked at responses to TV shows to identify successful or unsuccessful characters and plotlines. Or in gaming, we can track engagement and mood in real time to fuel a truly interactive experience, like a horror game waiting until the user is relaxed to frighten them. There are a million different applications.”

Central to the company’s vision is the democratisation of brain research, and the system is designed to power endless IP development harnessing the prolific growth in cloud systems. Neuroscience researchers can design an experiment and deploy it to headset users worldwide, amassing in one day data volumes that would otherwise take months.Though other similar technologies exist, Emotiv is unique in its ability to combine hardware development and machine learning with advancing IP in the field. Mackellar says basing its R&D at Macquarie University Incubator has unleashed a wealth of possibilities and partnerships.

“It’s enabled deep collaboration with researchers in the university’s Cognitive Science Department that has significantly improved our ability to interact and learn from their experiences as a customer, and be part of their ground-breaking research using our products,” he says. “The facilities, program and mentoring are fantastic, and the environment is incredibly stimulating. It’s just a great place to run our kind of business.”

Mackellar is most excited about the potential of Emotiv’s new technology: the MN8 Wireless Earbud product incorporating in-ear EEG and motion sensing systems into high-quality audio earbuds. Currently rolling off pilot production lines, it’s the company’s first product with genuine consumer mass-market potential and has captured the attention of major global players. The initial focus is on leveraging personalised neuroinformatics and machine learning to improve workplace wellness, safety and productivity for major corporate partners. MN8 won’t launch to consumers until a killer app is identified and ready to go.

“The device can track your level of attention and cognitive stress in real time; it can sense how you’re responding to a particular learning material, whether you’re stressed, or if your attention is waning and you should take a break,” he explains. “The data is accumulated rather than individualised, helping employers and HR managers better understand why teams perform in certain ways and use that to ensure staff are happier, healthier and more productive in the workplace.”

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