By Tanya Silverman
Every one of us harbors capabilities, talents, ideas, and goals. Beyond these conceptual principles, we must take it upon ourselves to channel our desires and obligations into forms of production.
Once engaged, the ability to maintain a steady flow of meaningful work, whether it’s creative, physical, mechanical or technical, is dependent on one fundamental personal skill: the ability focus.
Implementing effective focus to achieve our goals is specific to each person. Some people swear they cannot read while out in public; others believe they can only run outside on cloudy days. These stances are usually derived from trial-and-error processes, and while certain concentration techniques work for some individuals, they do not apply universally.
Melon to Focus
While focus may be, to many of us, an abstract mental phenomenon that seems to arbitrarily come and go, there are specific neurological sequences that take place within our brains during this state. Such neurological occurrences can be detected and measured by electroencephalography (EEG), and after decades of research, scientists have been able to determine the electrical signatures that indicate when a person is engaged in attentive focus.
Even if most of us strive to understand and improve our focus, realistically, we will probably not go through the efforts of traveling to a neuroscience lab to go and try to make sense of these ongoing electrical activities firing throughout our brains. However, there is a Kickstarter campaign going on right now for a portable device that utilizes EEG to measure focus through a headband and corresponding app. This project is called Melon, and is designed to help us comprehend our focused mental state, along with what it takes to get there.
To use Melon, the user places a band around their head; the headband then picks up on the electrical signals emanating from the user’s brain, and the corresponding app translates this information to the user to let them how effectively they are engaged in a given activity.
The Focus Behind Melon
Arye Barnehama envisioned the concept for Melon when he was conducting research in a neurology lab, studying Alzheimer’s and dementia. Through his research, he became inspired by the ability to see brain function through scientific imagery, and wanted to extend this capability beyond the clinical setting and apply it to people’s everyday lives.
“Melon was born out of that desire to take this research-oriented technology and turn it into something beautiful and usable. It was deeply engrained in the design of this headband, the app, and the interface that was built out of it,” Barnehama reflects. He felt that if people were given simple devices that could monitor brainwaves, such a product would help them better understand themselves and the decisions they make.
The Melon team is based in Los Angeles; Barnehama and his partner, Laura, both have a background in cognitive and computer science. The third core member is Janus, an electrical engineer who has about two decades of experience making medical measurement devices. The company is also partnered with the brainwave device company, NeuroSky.
Funding Melon through Kickstarter, rather than through a traditional investor, has so far yielded positive results:
“You make the best product by having a great, dedicated, early user base, and that’s what Kickstarter really provided,” says Barnehama. He looks forward to developing the company further with the donors who provided funding through this online resource.
Geared for the consumer market, and destined to help professionals, students and athletes, Melon seeks to incorporate the intricacies of EEG technology into things like studying, writing, exercising, research and preparing presentations.
Use Your Melon: Band and App
To use the Melon app, users pick up their Smartphone to indicate what activity they are starting, and then plug in the different variables that could affect their focus during this session.
“You enter different tags around where you are, what you’re doing, and basically look to get a better understanding about how your environment or how your mood is affecting your focus level,” explains Barnehama.
While the user engages in a designated task with the tagged variable, whether it’s reading a book while in a café or doing yoga while listening to classical music, Melon will measure the mental focus during that session, and rate it on a ten-point scale. The user can then take this information to determine what helps them focus more efficiently, such as if they work best in a sitting desk or standing desk, on weekends or weekdays.
“It has a very in-depth insight engine that comes out with correlations on what’s helping your focus, what’s hurting your focus, and gives you recommendations from there.” The app also provides personalized feedback, such as advising the user to take breaks, or deep breaths, during their math homework.
In addition to measuring focus and helping people to determine what it is that effects focus, the app also offers games that help users channel their focus by performing activities by folding virtual origami figures on the screen with their mind. The folds will occur slowly or quickly, based on the corresponding measurement that the headband detects of the user’s focus level. The most advanced origami focus gurus will be challenged with a thousand-point crane.
Kick to Start Melon
Ultimately, Melon seeks to merge the essence of the Quantified and Understood selves. The Quantified self is a concept of measuring one’s activities through technological devices that give feedback on things, like burning calories, tracking sleep or measuring blood pressure. Melon seeks to ascend to the next level of Quantified self up to Understood self, in which users will not only make sense of personal numeric ratings, but be able to understand the intricacies of their cryptic psychological states.
“We’ve gotten a lot of people that are really excited to see the invisible activity of their mind in a visible way for the first time,” Barnehama says of the early investors.
The Melon Kickstarter campaign will conclude on June 13th.