Created in the birthplace of Hello Kitty, the young Japanese collective Neurowear prototypes playful prostheses (cat ears, dog tail…) that immediately make us smile… by exploiting our brainwaves. Welcome to communication in the age of emotion!
Tokyo, from our correspondent
What if the future of communication no longer relied on words? No more linguistic misunderstandings, lost-in-translations, cultural faux-pas from too subtle nuances… What if all that remained were pure emotions, and the power to express them through cute prostheses? Such is the premise of Neurowear, an experimental collective that explores communication between humans and our relationship to the objects around us.
For Kana Nakano, one of Neurowear’s four members (and creative technologist at advertising giant Dentsu), the revolution of personal communication in the Internet age has already gone through several stages: first, we published blogs, then we posted tweets, later we were content to “like”. And today, most often we send an emoji to convey our feelings.
“As communication becomes less and less verbal,” she continues, “maybe in the future we won’t even use words. In this case, what tool can we imagine? We thought about it, discussed it, and then (Tomonori) Kagaya-san [another member] thought of a brainwave sensor. We used it to create a new communication organ for humans.”
Since 2010, Neurowear has been developing playful prototypes controlled by brainwaves, always in collaboration with specialist researchers and engineers.
Their first successful product, developed in collaboration with the robot creator Kiluck, and the only prototype to be produced and manufactured by the U.S. company Neurosky in 2011, is Necomimi (“cat ears” in Japanese). Attached to a headset equipped with a brainwave sensor, the plush ears perk up when the person is focused, droop when she relaxes and twitch slightly when her mental state is somewhere between the two.
Sold as a toy, with a less sensitive sensor, Necomimi doesn’t always work perfectly, but simply augmenting your body with active cat ears always seems to bring out a smile.
Necomimi, presented by Neurowear:
Shippo (“tail” in Japanese), developed 18 months later as the ever-popular follow-up to the animal prostheses project, functions as the canine tail to accompany the feline ears. The more the person focuses her attention, the faster the tail wags. Activated by the same sensor, using the same Neurosky chip, Shippo doesn’t react quite as readily as Necomimi, due in part to its heavier mechanics. And both extensions require the sensor to be placed squarely in the middle of the forehead…
Shippo, presented by Neurowear:
In the post-Google Glass age, a decade after the post-futuristic Hollywood thriller Final Cut, where every citizen is implanted with a chip that records their entire life in video, Neurocam is presented as yet another cute toy that augments our experiences, or filters our memory.
Originally designed to create video souvenirs of our happy moments, the prototype consists of a camera that records a 5-second Gif whenever the person’s level of interest (or stimulation, even negative) reaches at least 60 %, according to her brain signals. Here, the interface is more transparent, displaying the signal analysis in a mobile application, while the video is recorded directly onto the smartphone. But with a sensor in the middle of your forehead and a cell phone on your temple, Neurocam is a little less kawaii and little more Glasshole for dummies…
Neurocam, presented by Neurowear:
Using the same technique of neurotagging, thanks to an algorithm co-developed by Mitsukura Laboratory at Keio University to analyze brain signals with the Neurosky chip, Mico (“Music Inspiration from your subconsciousness”) selects music to play according to your mood.
This most recent musical prototype, conceived by Neurowear member and fellow Dentsu creative technologist Yasuhiro Tsuchiya, promises many more potential commercial applications for the post-Pandora, post-Spotify generation.
Back to kawaii with Mononome (“object eyes” in Japanese), which animates any object by grafting on two expressive eyes that react to their environment. Equipped with light, movement and vibration sensors, as well as some 30 piezoelectric buzzes and beeps, this latest prototype, presented at Maker Faire Tokyo in August 2015, almost gives the impression of a living creature who loves human interaction, with all the range of emotions that are possible to express through cartoon eyes.
Mononome, presented by Neurowear:
In the age of the Internet of Things, when every household appliance will soon be connected, up-to-date on our daily routine and capable of taking initiatives to make our life easier, Mononome’s main objective is to lend a little more emotion to our relationship with everyday objects, however anthropomorphized… Will the future of communication be kawaii?