smarting-mbraintrain
Healthcare

mBrainTrain: Serbian startups & the future of brain tech

“The Serbian startup scene is fairly new,” says Bogdan Mijović co-founder of mBrainTrain, a wearable device for recording and analysing electrical brain activity.

Mijović studied for a PhD in Neuroscience in Belgium. But decided to make the transition from academic researcher to entrepreneur because although it was “exciting” and he “was collaborating with doctors… I realized everything gets down to writing scientific papers instead of producing something that really works.”

This is very much a story about what it is like to come from Eastern Europe, because as he explains, his parents grew up in Communist-era Serbia where all companies were publically owned and this left him “always dreaming of having something of my own.” So, when he saw the opportunity to get a grant from the Innovation Fund within the Innovation Serbia Project he “grabbed it.”

“The investment opportunity [in Serbia] is poor,” he adds. “There are a couple of Bulgarian investors (Eleven and LaunchHub) but very few Serbian.” And they all only invest on the angel rounds. “There are no financing opportunities between 100,000 and a million Euros.”

What is EEG and BCI?

As technology has improved, EEG – the ability to record electrical activity along the scalp – has increased. This in turn has meant greater instances of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) which allow apps to track brain activity. The mBrainTrain’s smarting product is “not really a consumer device” though, explains Mijović, it is more of a research tool and reveals just how much work still needs to be done in the area.

In fact, it is an extremely strange looking piece of headgear which was originally designed to stimulate the brains of stroke victims through “serious gaming”. In practice this meant recording brain waves and testing games to stimulate pre-determined regions of the brain and facilitate healing. However, “the concept we started with is not scientifically proven, and is put on hold at the moment.”

“[Instead] we made a platform that researchers use to make their own applications.” This means that researchers can use the mobility of the headpiece and sophistication of the technology to take real-time brain readings and study how the brain reacts to different everyday situations.

Where are EEG and BCI heading?

There is a lot of potential in EEG in BCI. Some companies are already using digitised brain waves to power the user-interface of games, education and research applications. While others are using it as the next stage of the quantified self. However, there is still a long way to go.

Mijović expects EEG devices to become truly wearable everyday gadgets eventually. Yet he does not believe there are going to be any high quality EEG products available in the short run because there is still too much work to be done. “I believe the first working everyday gadgets are going to appear around 2020,” he says.

Then, in the longer term, “EEG is not going to be used alone,” but in combination with other wearables. In the medical market he sees smaller devices eventually becoming “available to everyone”. Whilst a wider use of EEG should also provide more brain data, which could be used in research to provide new processing and detection algorithms.

“We have already become cyborgs, with our smartphones attached to our pockets at least,” he concludes. “What I expect is that this integration with technology will continue through different wearables attached to us.”

“Brain reading will allow the breakthrough in the speed of this human-gadget communication, which is at the moment limited by the agility of our fingers, allowing us to spend a very limited amount of time in this communication, but more frequently than ever. It does sound scary, though.”

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