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The Muse mind-monitoring headband is a virtual day on the beach

We needed a break from all the show floor madness at CES this year, so we dropped by InteraXon’s igloo-like booth to check out Muse: a brainwave-reading headband that claims to reduce stress and anxiety, increase concentration, and improve the user’s ability to calm their mind.

To be fair, brainwave-sensing headbands aren’t exactly a new thing. Consumer-oriented EEG tech has been around for more than a decade now, but up until now, none have really been targeted toward the health tracking/quantified self crowd.

Muse is a bit different. Rather than being a gaming- or research-oriented device, InteraXon is positioning Muse as a digital health accessory – at least to get started. The company plans to release a software development kit in the coming months so that third-party developers can build other apps for Muse, so in the future you’ll be able to use it for gaming, research, controlling gadgets, and more. But to start things off, InteraXon is focusing on mental health for it’s primary app.

We sat down with UX designer Jay Vidyarthi to get a live demo of the headband and accompanying app, and it was a strange experience to say the least. The application functions something like a guided relaxation coach that gives you instant feedback. Instead of simply spitting out bunch of confusing numbers and real-time graphs, the app places you on a virtual beach on a sunny, calm day. When you’re calm and focused, the scene will mirror your state of mind – the sky will stay clear, the wind will be calm, and waves will break gently on the shore. If you lose focus or become stressed however, clouds will start to gather, the wind will pick up, and the breaking waves will become more intense – thus giving you a subtle, non-jarring cue to regain your focus and relax. 

The idea behind it all is that with practice, over time you’ll get better at focusing your mind and mitigating stress. The whole experience was rather zen-like, and surprisingly effective. Even amid the madness of the CES show floor, I managed to reach a completely relaxed mental state for about two minutes.

Muse is currently available for preorder for $270 bucks, and is expected to ship consumers in mid-2014. Find out more here.