Thursday, May 16, 2013
Melon's Goal To Connect Your Brain To Your Smartphone, And Help You Focus
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Can a hardware device and your smartphone make it easier for you to optimize your productivity, and improve your concentration? A new, Los Angeles startup, Melon, thinks so, and just booted up an effort this week to raise funding for its brainwave-monitoring headband and smartphone app. We caught up with founders Arye Barnehama and Laura Michelle Berman earlier this week to hear more about what Melon is hoping to do with its brain-reading headband.
What is Melon?
Arye Barnehama: Melon is all about turning the invisible activity of the mind, into something visible and meaningful in your everyday life. Laura and I both have cognitive science background, and this really sparked our desire to build something around allowing people to understand their brains better, and live better day-to-day. It's all about the quantified self moment. You might be familiar with the devices from Jawbone, Nike Fuel, Fitbit. We see ourselves as a layer of understanding, rather than just quantifying. We really want to provide insights and understanding, and hope that users get a better understanding of themselves.
For those who haven't seen your device, what does it look like?
Laura Michelle Berman: The hardware is an EKG headband. When we designed the headband, we made it so they can wear it during any activity that they are used to. You can secure it on your head, and use it during exercise, athletics, working in your office, or studying in the library.
Arye Barnehama: What the hardware does, is it measures the electrical activity given by the brain. Your neurons are constantly firing and sending positive and negative ions back and forth. We take a look at that activity, and have developed algorithms with top partners to turn make that measurable.
What is that brain activity going to tell you?
Arye Barnehama: How you achieve a mental task, is having an awareness of yourself and understanding of yourself. That's what focus is. It's about achieving the state of one mental task by focusing on something, which is what they call "flow". Programmers know about flow, athletes know about it. It's understanding yourself. The first Melon app is about how to achieve that state of one mental task.
What are your backgrounds and how'd you start Melon?
Arye Barnehama: Both of our backgrounds are in cognitive science and computer science. We were doing research at a neuroscience lab, and had been introduced to a lot of really fascinating, brain machine technology, which was being used to map out the brain. We were fascinated by this, and we really wanted to see if the technology could be used in a better way, in a day-to-day environment. There is some amazing and powerful technology only available in a lab to understand how the brain works. I'm someone hwo loves products that integrate into day to day life, and thought that doing that would be a great way to use the technology. That's when I approached Laura about the idea. I wanted to see if both of our combined background could have the synergy to produce a product like we have with Melon, bringing brain science and understanding into everyday life.
Where did the hardware expertise come from for developing the headband?
Laura Michelle Berman: We have a third member of our team, Janus Ternullo, who has been making medical measurement devices and doing all kinds of signal processing, including developing EEG products for the last 20 years. He's out of MIT.
You took an interesting approach with the startup, which is using crowdsourcing. Can you talk about your choice to go with Kickstarter to raise funds?
Arye Barnehama: It's a really exciting time for hardware companies now, especially because of crowdfunding platforms. For us, it's a really amazing, engaging, and exciting audience. That was really one of the draws for us. It's a great audience of early adopters. It's a place you can put out your product, and get feeedback on how people want to use it, and how they want to integrate it into their daily life. We wanted to engage with the earliest adopters around Melon. The other part of it, is we'll be launching a software development kit with the product, and Kickstarter has a track record of getting developers really excited about products.
What does that SDK allow developers to do?
Arye Barnehama: The SDK will open up the hardware, so that people can work with different data, work with our algorithm, and build their own apps on the headband. Obviously, we'll be launching our first app, and will control that experience so that it's beautiful and functional for a ton of different situations. But we're really excited to see how developers want to push the platform forward. We've already heard of some really interesting and cool ideas. We're hoping that not only will we have something that makes the brain more accessible to consumers, but that we'll also have something that could inspire some cool software to be developed by third party developers.
How long before you expect to see this hit the market?
Laura Michelle Berman: The shipment to Kickstarter backers is scheduled for November. After that, we'll evaluate what's next in terms of putting it in stores or online retail.
Arye Barnehama: That said, we have some pretty cool plans from between the end of Kickstarter and the launch of the hardware, which no other companies have done yet. It's not something we're talking about yet, but we'll be excited to work with our Kickstarter backers on that.
What's your biggest hurdle or challenge between now and your launch of the product?
Arye Barnehama: Our first challenge was to turn something that was only really available before in labs or in research studies, and take that technology to the real world. We wanted something you would want to use in your day to day, that looks good, feels good, and software which would help you during any activity, everything from yoga to studying. Now, we're excited to engage with the community and get the word out and reach everyone.