Head start in training the brain

Dr Leong (far left) and Dr Chan wearing the headbands, which measure the brainwaves of users as they play Neeuro Memorie games. On display on the tablet is one of the games, Sushi Recall. It requires players to recreate the sequence in which sushi pl
Dr Leong (far left) and Dr Chan wearing the headbands, which measure the brainwaves of users as they play Neeuro Memorie games. On display on the tablet is one of the games, Sushi Recall. It requires players to recreate the sequence in which sushi plates appear.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

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Mental exercises are good for the mind as they can stall cognitive decline. And, now, there is a special headband for such workouts.

The pink-and-white headband is from local company Neeuro and it is called Neeuro Senzeband. It comes with a mobile app called Neeuro Memorie, a set of 15 games, which are the mental workouts.

The headband - which has six sensors - measures the brainwaves of users as they play the games on their mobile device.

In one game, called Dot Connect, the player is shown a picture of variable shapes represented by a series of linked dots and asked to reproduce them in a flipped form. The aim is to help the player improve his visual-spatial abilities.

In another game, Mind Copter, a helicopter is controlled by the brainwaves detected by the headband. The player must lift the helicopter and fly it to perform rescue missions. The aim is to train the player's concentration.

The mental gym set was created by a team of 15 people comprising neuroscientists, game developers and data scientists.

Neeuro co-founder Alvin Chan, 43, noted that many studies have shown that training the brain with mental games could combat cognitive decline. He said his team's aim is not to stop cognitive decline, which is inevitable with ageing, but to slow it down."We want to help individuals stay mentally capable for longer."

If a user is just getting better at playing a game, the headband will detect a reduction in brain activity. This indicates that the user has mastered the game and is playing based on memory and gut feel, and he will be advised to move on to another game.

Dr Chan stressed that the headband is safe for humans. It is made of a material developed by the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE).

Dr Leong Yew Wei, 36, a scientist at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research institute, said the material went through many tests and was fine-tuned for comfort. He noted this collaboration between IMRE and Neeuro has given birth to a new product, and a new use for the material previously used only in mobile phones.

"This is proof that it is really important for researchers to understand the needs of the industry, identify the challenges, and then tweak their inventions to meet these needs," he said.

The headband and games - which took about two years to develop - are listed on American crowdfunding site Indiegogo. More than US$63,000 (S$85,000) has been raised from over 390 backers.

Customers can start to pre-order the products later this month from Neeuro's e-commerce site, at retail prices of US$299 for the headband and US$149 for the games. They will receive them from June.

About 100 sets will likely be trialled at hospitals or senior activity centres. Data will be collected from users for research.

Dr Chan's vision is for the headband and games to be an easy way to improve a person's cognition in the comfort of his home. "We want to keep people away from the hospitals as far as possible," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Head start in training the brain'. Print Edition | Subscribe