There are more than 50 other people working in the same space as Stockpile, in a semi-converted factory a few yards from the malodorous Gowanus Canal. Artists, designers and entrepreneurs inhabit a warren of open-roofed offices built up from the plywood floors, sharing three cavernous production shops and one severely over-taxed mini-fridge. In a studio just across from the wood shop, the two-person team of Arlene Ducao and Ilias Koen has invented something straight out of science fiction.
It's called the MindRider, a bicycle helmet with a tiny BCI (brain computer interface) which measures signals from your brain to calculate focus and stress. Befitting a device that reads your thoughts, the stylishly creased, angular outer shell brings to mind a tin-foil hat, as made by some exceedingly fashionable milliner. Something Daphne Guinness might commission, were she concerned with alien surveillance and cosmic rays.
The technology that allows the MindRider to "read" "thoughts" is called EEG (electroencephalography), the measurement of electrical signals across the scalp. It isn't new technology - the first human EEG was performed 90 years ago, and it's still used extensively in medical diagnosis and brain research. What makes MindRider so innovative is what it does with the EEG data it collects: it adds it to a map.
After only a few runs with prototype helmets, MindRider has produced a map of NYC's streets crowded with red and orange dots, representing problem spots like frequently-blocked bike lanes and crowded intersections. It's also mapped long green paths, showing those restful stretches free of double-parked taxis and jagged potholes. It's a useful tool for a bike commuter planning his or her route, but it has even bigger implications on a municipal level. A team of cyclists wearing MindRiders could help a city plan its entire bicycling infrastructure, and identify dangerous areas before an accident. Cities without bike lanes could use the mapping feature to determine where they're most critically needed, ultimately saving lives.
Thinking even bigger, why limit the MindRider to cycling? The computer system Ducao and Koen developed can help improve any high-traffic area, at any scale, from shoppers moving through malls to tractor trailers barreling along stretches of highway. Workers with hazardous, physically demanding jobs could integrate the device into their safety gear, receiving warnings when regular occupational stress reaches dangerous levels.
Making MindRider all the more impressive is its relatively humble origin. Nowadays, innovations with this kind of potential seem to come pre-packaged from major corporations, or well-funded teams at research universities. The archetypical Inventor, changing the world from a tiny office or shed, seems like another naive American fantasy, like the rags-to-riches tales of Horatio Alger. Ducao and Koen's MindRider prove that these capital-I Inventors are not only real, but they could be changing the world just across the hall.
MindRider is raising funding for the first production run on Kickstarter through July 10. Reserve yours and help bring an incredible idea to life!