The technology industry changes every day, between augmented reality and artificial intelligence; phew! I can’t keep up. So what’s next, our brains? The answer is yes, at least if NextMind has anything to say about it.
NextMind utilizes a sensor through non-invasive EEG technology to detect neural activity from the visual cortex, while machine learning algorithms translate them into digital commands. Simply put, NextMind is “reading your thoughts.” The sensor aims to learn what it looks like when your brain is engaged in what the company calls “active, visual, focus,” (Etherington, 2020).
NextMind was founded in 2017 by Sid Kouidar, a former assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience at New York University. His work has centered on psychophysics and brain imaging to research mental states in the human brain and to probe mental states in infants, sleepers, and coma patients, (Kouidar, n.d.).
Until now, the brain-computer interface (BCI) was a niche within neuroscience; most of its use cases involved prosthetic, thought-controlled devices, (Cao, 2022). This technology has had so much clinical success, especially in assisting people who suffer from severe motor disabilities, neuromuscular diseases, and spinal cord injuries (Mak and Wolpaw, 2009). But due to a crop of startups exploring its potential in consumer products, metaverse companies are suddenly interested- including Snapchat (Cao, 2022).
In 2020, Kouidar hinted at the progress glasses would bring to the virtual reality world. “VR is further along, so it makes sense to start there. But what if this EEG technology could be built into a band behind a pair of glasses? ‘AR glasses are coming,’ so with a smaller version of that, it is going to be a potential use case. And again, it’s an extra modality. You can use it with a gesture, and you can use it with eye-tracking,” (Protalinski, 2020). Was this a precursor, or was a conversation already in progress?
The next product that NextMind will be utilizing is Spectacles by Snapchat. Yes, that’s right, Snapchat recently acquired NextMind for their new augmented reality project. Snapchat says, “With the help of augmented reality creators, we’re discovering new ways to fuse fun and utility through immersive AR.”
A year ago, Spectacles were exclusively for digital creators and not for sale to the mass market. Now, they come at a steep price of $380.00 and are available with or without a prescription lens and two colors, mineral and carbon. Spectacles, however, are not a new product as this is the fourth generation version. The first and second were released several years ago, and then the third in 2019. Spectacles work using two front-facing cameras and software built in the Snap Labs, which detects physical surfaces and places the virtual effects “into” the real world (Heath, 2021).
Eliza Struthers-Jobin, a Data Visualisation Engineer, says, “Digital technology is really interesting for art because, somehow, the experiences always leave you with more questions than you started with.” There is certainly a lot of promise regarding the future of BCI technology.
Alexandre Gonfalonieri from the Harvard Business Review says, “BCIs isn’t a perfect technology. There’s no telling what mistakes or mishaps we’ll encounter as companies and individuals begin to use these devices in the real world. What’s more, BCI, like any technology, can be hacked. Hackers can access a BCI headband and create or send manipulated EEG data.”
Before Spectacles 3 even launched, Snapchat emphasized that these glasses are meant to be just a small step toward a future where augmented reality hardware is widely adopted, (Leskin, 2019).
Evan Spiegel, the CEO and co-founder of Snapchat, said in an interview, that he believes Spectacles, and similar products, will become the primary way in which we interact with the world, “I do think this is the first time that we’ve brought all the pieces of our business together and really shown the power of creating these AR experiences in Lens Studio and deploying them through Spectacles. And to me, that is the bridge to computing overlaid on the world,” (Newton, 2019). Maybe try it out, or maybe wait it out. Either way, Snapchat Spectacles gives us a glimpse at the future.