Company Offers IoT Solution Driven by Thoughts

Published: October 23, 2023

Mentalista has demonstrated a system that detects brain waves, sends the related data via BLE to a receiver, and can then analyze the results to understand the user’s state of mind, or even flip a switch based on their thoughts.

Internet of Things (IoT) solutions transmit data from one location to another, using sensors, chips, and transceivers. But what if that data originated directly from a user’s brain? That’s a premise that drove a technology company in France, Mentalista, to develop a wearable system they say enables individuals to control their environment with their thoughts. The solution leverages a hat or headband equipped with electrodes that measure brain waves, a microprocessor from Insight SiP and a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio to transmit brain activity data to a BLE receiver. The system software on a local server then analyzes the received details and can prompt changes.

Bastien Didier, Founder and CEO, Mentalista

The Paris-based company Mentalista was founded in 2017 by Bastien Didier, whose background is computer science and design, he says. Today, the company comprises eight engineers developing and testing the technology around critical use cases.

The company’s initial goal, Didier says, was to test whether people’s brains could serve as controllers of the world around them. “This is the very base topic that animated us at the beginning,” he says, but the company then drilled its focus into how brain data can be collected, analyzed, and leveraged to change the environment.

The complete hardware and software ecosystem they developed is being tested internally and with partners for various applications. Once fully developed, the technology will be integrated into companies’ products and services that leverage brain data.

The system centers more on machine learning and artificial intelligence than neuroscience. The main algorithms employ ML and AI to learn what specific brain wave measurements mean, from one instruction to another (such as turning a light on or off) and from one user to another. “We don’t try to understand the brain we just try to understand the data,” he says. “We try to get the best data possible to analyze them with a statistical approach.”

How it Works

The solution consists of a battery-powered hat or headband. Each wearable device comes with eight electrodes facing the head and environmental sensors focused outside the body to identify factors such as speed or ecological conditions. The electrodes capture electrical activity perceived from the brain’s neurons. The SIP uses Nordic semiconductors’ NRF5340 System on Chip (SoC) to filter and provide basic controls over the received data and the connectivity via BLE. Another chip is dedicated to Wi-Fi transmissions.

Thus far, the company works in several sectors: sports performance, emotional response measurements for consumer brands, and smart homes.

In the case of sports, athletes wear the Mentalista headband to enable coaches or trainers to track the mental states of the individuals as they go about practice or games. The system detects brain waves that could be perceived to signal the athlete is losing focus, tired, or experiencing emotion or pain. Outward-facing sensors could provide data about the conditions and the athlete’s physical movement. The Mentalista software would then merge all data to understand the athletes’ mental states, how they impact performance, or how conditions affect their state of mind.

The company also works in the transportation sector. It has testing underway, Didier says, to help detect and prevent drowsiness, stress, or negative emotions in professional drivers.

A separate application around luxury brands measures how consumers respond to a product, or its marketing. In this case, the use case centers around understanding user response in order to build better products or marketing strategies. One version of such a solution was tested with a large audience viewing the presentation of a product.

Each audience member put on a Mentalista hat and then sat in the audience where the product was presented.  Each hat collected data about thought patterns, and the software on a local server – collecting the data via BLE – synchronized all the user data to capture an overview of emotional responses.

Flipping a Switch with Your Brain

However, the smart home, or other IoT version of the solution, centers around controlling the environment through brain waves. The system requires that users first train themselves and the system to understand each other. The individual must practice thinking of a specific instruction while the system software uses machine learning to identify that a particular set of brain waves requires a detailed response.

In public demonstrations, the group has applied the headgear to a user who then practices an instruction: to say the word “hello.” The user repeated this instruction for about one minute before the system understood the instruction and displayed the expression “Hello.”

The instruction for a consumer product such as a smart-home device could be “turn on the living room light.” The user would repeat that instruction until the system correctly identified the request.

The BLE beacon receiver would require a mechanical connection to the switch to prompt a response such as turning on a light switch. Other use cases could be releasing a lock on a gate or even making a payment. The company says that the software could potentially validate a transaction, such as a payment made by a specific person, by identifying the individual based on their unique brain waves.

Dider predicts that Mentalista will be commercially releasing a version of its technology next year. Until then, “we will have more and more data to improve our algorithm.” He adds, “I think it will be two or three years to have a perfect proof of concept for the consumer.” Mentalista is looking for technology company partners to work with in developing such consumer products. “We are providing the technology and need [partners] to provide the use case.”

Security is a key concern, which the company says it addresses by ensuring that data is stored locally on an edge device with a local server, controlled only by the system’s owner. In this way, other parties could not have access to the thought data.

It may be years before the technology leads to everyday applications, but Dider expects the transition to thought-based IoT to be underway. “Today we have screens, and we have tactile and vocal interfaces, but maybe in five or ten years there will be more mental interface [instead],” he says. Whether writing an e-mail, sending a message, or drawing something [with thoughts], this is the future of this technology,” he says.

Key Takeaways:

  • French technology company Mentalista has developed, tested, and demonstrated an IoT solution that transmits brainwave data to a receiver via Bluetooth Low Energy.
  • The solution could detect the state of mind of an individual wearing the sensor-enabled headgear, or it could enable an action, such as the flip of a switch, based on the mental instructions of the user.