We've seen a number of headsets tap into the mind, to geotag your mood, grant you remote control over gadgets or simply let you wiggle a pair of cat ears. None of those are quite like the foc.us, however, which serves up transcranial direct-current simulation (tDCS) -- a controversial form of neurosimulation that transmits current to a particular area of the brain. Originally used to help patients with brain injuries, tDCS has supposedly been found to increase cognitive performance in healthy adults. These claims haven't been proven yet though, and shocking your own cranium isn't exactly FDA approved.
Still, the foc.us is one of a few tDCS headsets designed for the consumer market and can, the inventor Michael Oxley claims, improve your working or short-term memory when the electrodes are placed on your prefrontal cortex. A low-intensity current is passed through the different nodes, exciting that part of the brain. Interestingly, Oxley is positioning it as a way to boost your video gaming prowess for the "ultimate gaming experience," a concept we found a little odd. That said, you don't actually have to wear the headset while shooting up bad guys or other brain-draining tasks. The idea behind the foc.us headset is to put it on your noggin, fire it up, and wait for around five to ten minutes, then take it off and go about your day. We did just that and all the gory details are after the break.
The model that we tried was only a prototype and, as you can see from the pictures, the device has four copper electrodes that are designed to sit on your forehead via four saline-soaked sponges, which are there to prevent your skin from burning. (You are getting about a milliamp of current zapped across your cranium after all.) A touch sensor on the back turns the headset on when held down and activates the tDCS when double tapped.
We strapped the headset on for ourselves at a recent event, and we found it to be a weird experience. There was a strange, almost burning, sensation on the right part of our forehead, while the rest merely tingled. Oxley told us that it was normal for some people to feel it more on one side than the other, and that tDCS does take some getting used to. After about eight minutes, the tingling sensation remained even after we removed the headset. We didn't really feel our powers of concentration improve that much afterward, but it's hard to say after such a limited time.
The final product will be made out of polypropylene and polycarbonate, while the sponges will be of a much higher-grade. The final foc.us kit will include a headset (available in black or red), a case, eight reusable sponges and a micro-USB cable. For those who want to take tDCS a step further, you can get additional electrodes that can be attached elsewhere on the head. The default setting is 1.0mA for five minutes, but if you pair it with the iOS app it's configurable from 0.8 to 2.0mA and sessions can last up to 40 minutes (for when you really need to cook those brain cells). If you're a tDCS believer, then be prepared to pay hypochondriac prices for your latest toy, as it'll set you back $249 in the US and £179 in the UK. The first batch should ship by July, while subsequent orders are set to arrive starting in October.