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foc.us headset zaps your brain to improve your game

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May 28, 2013

The foc.us gaming headset claims to improve a gamer's abilities by stimulating specific ar...

The foc.us gaming headset claims to improve a gamer's abilities by stimulating specific areas of the brain with a low electric current

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What would you do if you wanted to improve your video game skills? Practice more often? Study game maps? Maybe get some tips from pro gamers? But why do any of that when you can just hook some electrodes to your scalp and run an electric current through your cranium? That's what Focus Labs is offering with the foc.us headset, which it claims will improve a gamer's abilities by stimulating specific areas of the brain with a low electric current.

It may sound like science fiction, but according to the developers, the headset's mind-boosting abilities come from transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), a controversial practice that has seen a minor resurgence in recent years. In the past, tDCS has been employed to treat chronic pain, prevent migraines, and even improve a person's math skills, but the effects are still being explored by researchers.

In the case of the foc.us headset though, the electric current supposedly heightens the wearer's brain power to give them an edge in competitive video games. "Stimulating the prefrontal cortex is good for working memory, vigilance and focus, all used when gaming," says inventor Michael Oxley.

The headset itself is built around a Bluetooth low energy system chip from Texas Instrumen...

The headset itself is built around a Bluetooth low energy system chip from Texas Instruments connected to an array of four electrodes. Once placed on a person's head, the electrodes need to be adjusted to the correct spots on the forehead to ensure the current passes through the prefrontal cortex. Sponges soaked in a saline solution are then fitted between the electrodes and the wearer's skin to prevent burns. Additional electrodes can also be attached to stimulate other areas of the brain or produce alternate effects.

Users can control the amount and duration of the charge manually on the headset itself or through an iOS app, which connects to the headset via Bluetooth (an Android app currently isn't possible due to its lack of Bluetooth low energy APIs). By default, the electrodes will apply 1 mA of current for five minutes – which will suit most people, according to the company – but that can be reconfigured from 0.8 to 2 mA for a period of five minutes up to 40 minutes.

When in use, encrypted firmware monitors the resistance between the electrodes and alters the voltage immediately to reach a specified amount. The app also instructs the headset to gradually raise the charge at the beginning to help users ease into the sensation. Like most tDCS devices, one short session should be enough to produce results, whatever they may be.

Studies have shown the practice of tDCS could help in treating depression and certain brain injuries, but there's only been one study that measured video game performance, and that was only used as a tool to gauge a soldier's aptitude. Critics have also questioned why the headset is built to stimulate the prefrontal cortex instead of the motor or visual cortices, which directly affect a person's reaction time.

By default, the electrodes will apply 1 mA of current for five minutes, but that can be re...

The foc.us does have the distinction of being one of the few consumer-friendly tDCS devices available, which is sure to appeal to enthusiasts who might otherwise have to rely on homemade gadgets powered by a 9V battery. However, even though the foc.us headset is claimed to meet all regulatory safety requirements, the official website does state that it "offers no medical benefits, is not a medical device, and is not regulated by the FDA."

The foc.us headsets are currently available to order in either red or black for US$249 each, shipping is expected to start in July. Each package includes a headset, carrying case, micro-USB cable, and eight reusable sponges. Focus Labs is also offering a 30-day money back guarantee, so skeptical customers have the option to return the headset for a full refund if they aren't satisfied with the experience.

Source: foc.us via Popular Science

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things.   All articles by Jonathan Fincher
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9 Comments

Of note, electric shock therapy as it was once known, used for treating multiple personality disorders was also responsible for causing memory loss in many patients.

This device has cleared the FDA, but I'm not aware of any quantitative study to show what voltage is responsible for what level of memory loss if at all.

So if your goal is to play Q3 team DM against 4 Nightmare level bots (and win) as a tradeoff of forgetting your name then Bob's your aunt. But if you have an exam the next day you might reconsider.

Yes, mild electric stimulation probably revitalizes information stored in brain cells and/or probably helps with making new connections from repetitive tasks i.e. - for improving hand eye. But how much is too much?

If harmless, I'd like to think such a technology could better be applied to improving:

-Study/Memory

-Lucid dreaming

-Sports hand eye

-Relaxation/stress management

Constructively comment and 2 cents:

Brains work at specific frequencies from ~70-110 Hz for most of us. Special cases either side of that. :b

If you know your frequency, rather then applying DC, try a Hz value delivered as pulses or as continuous AC sinusoid at a frequency slightly above native. Might actually speed up your brain.

Bineural beats as I've found actually impact behavior and body (make you sleepy 4-6Hz of hypo 12-20Hz as required). That is sound however, and it uses differential tones which is different, but it goes to show you can actually alter yourself quite easily using external stimuli.

Nairda
28th May, 2013 @ 10:13 pm PDT

I've worked with several people over the years who could have more logically, more appropriately used this device on another part of their anatomy. Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach, California.

rseifer
29th May, 2013 @ 09:54 am PDT

So its basically shock therapy for the sane.

Nabeel Khan
29th May, 2013 @ 10:44 am PDT

Is it really a good idea for someone to play with the controls in this way?

What could be next on this path? How about a DIY homebuilt 3D surgical tool to really have fun with science. Maybe a small drill to trepann the skull in a few places followed by little probes inserted to create really new circuits!

StWils
29th May, 2013 @ 11:05 am PDT

Oh please, the only thing this has in common with ECT is electrons. For the full range of research and benefits accruing to tDCS one should consult Google.

I've done a fair bit of research on this and their claims have only touched the surface of the potential of tDCS. I talked to them at Maker Faire last week and they are well aware of all that recent research indicates it might be able to do but to get the FDA to sign off they absolutely can not even mention those things.

I really want one but the price puts me off by a factor of about 5.

DonGateley
29th May, 2013 @ 01:45 pm PDT

I would buy it for $50 to experiment. I have suffered from insomnia for 60 years. And I have trouble remembering when I play along with Jeopardy. I know the answer, but can't quite bring it into consciousness. It's not everyday, but very frustrating and worrying when it happens.

Don Duncan
29th May, 2013 @ 02:26 pm PDT

Great idea and may work on the same principle as transistors. Cost too much though.

b@man
29th May, 2013 @ 05:17 pm PDT

This is no new technology. The military has used it to improve response time and reliability in drone pilots. This warrants the obvious adoption for video games. In its current form it may only enhance our minds receptiveness to images, interesting enough much can be delivered through such channels. For instance a diagram of the skeletal system, organs and muscles, DNA, solar systems and more. Also if playing a game while stimulating your brain is resourceful then why not learn through play (which is already effective).

Just Imagine how other sectors of the brain may respond when stimulated properly.

shield
30th May, 2013 @ 10:15 am PDT

foc.us experience

I purchased a tDCS headset based on internet/magazine reviews and the foc.us money 30 day peace of mind money back guarantee

(http://www.foc.us/product-guarantee-and-warranty.html). I received my unit and quickly discerned that the unit was not a match to the geometry of my head. I sought and received a RMA number from foc.us. I returned the unit. foc.us support staff (support@foc.us) staff acknowledged the return. foc.us support did not credit my charge card. After 5 attempts to have foc.us credit my charge card, I opened a fraud report with my credit card company. After 15 attempts via to support@foc.us (some of which were acknowledged) I have yet to receive a re-imbursement. Fortunately for me, my credit card company concurred with my fraud report and credited my account. Pitty, the unit looked promising but in reality (for me) it was a mismatch of expectation. foc.us did not display the appropriate "business integrity" to stand behind their "peace of mind" web statement and return my

purchase price.

I share my experience. I hope your experience with foc.us is better.

MennoSpeak
2nd July, 2014 @ 03:43 pm PDT
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