Handheld Technology

Aurora: A revolution in 'active' sleep

The Aurora, by iWinks, has not launched yet but it has already had a chequered history. “It is a complicated project to do well,” explains its electrical engineer and neuroscientist, CEO, Daniel Schoonover.

The device is a piece of wearable technology that senses and maps brain waves in order to increase dream recall and control. It is part of the craze for “lucid dreaming” which has a small but extremely engaged community. And the Aurora is tipped to be a game changer in the field. It raised $239,094 with 1,428 backers on Kickstarter back in January 2014. Now Schoonover expects it to finally ship in October 2015.

The delays began during the initial Kickstarter campaign where the device first appeared as a ‘light version’ with EEG brainwave data being streamed via Bluetooth to an external device. “Not everyone wants to use a smartphone at bedtime,” explains Schoonover “so we decided to beef up the hardware to make it completely independent”. This was announced half way through the campaign, so the company had to go back into R&D.

This caused numerous technical difficulties. The two hardest things to get right are people need to be comfortable when they sleep and this device needs to track brainwaves – now the whole kit and caboodle has to be contained in one friendly piece of hardware.


Schoonover is well placed to deliver on this challenge though. He has an impressive academic record and a year at biosensor industry leader, NeuroSky, working on a steep staging algorithm. He is also keen to stress his device is the only one of its kind validated for accuracy via a sleep clinic.

There is no comparative device available on the market at the moment and the community is extremely excited about what it could mean. “I don't know if it'll be a game changer,” says Jared Zeizel, Creative Director and Manager at Dream Labs and author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming.  “[However] what could make the Aurora great, is that it's being built to be able to detect when your brain has reached the REM stage of sleep - the stage where lucid dreams happen.”

“This is big,” explains Zeizel “because a lot of recent lucid dreaming masks work off a timer only. If the Aurora can accurately detect REM and cue the dreamer that they're in a dream, than that will help with the biggest hurdle in lucid dreaming – realising one is in a dream.”

“One of our greatest challenges is communicating what the device does,” says Schoonover. The company has to be sure it does not give off the wrong impression. This can’t make people dream “it is a tool,” he warns. This all adds to the problems iWinks faces: not only does it have to get out a safe, comfortable piece of hardware into the marketplace, it also has a big education job on its hands.

The people who are engaged are extremely interested and tend to be very knowledgeable on the subject but for most ordinary individuals the whole concept of dream control is a bit of mystery. “The idea is to open [lucid dreaming] up to a wider audience,” explains Schoonover. This was part of the inspiration when he and his co-founder, Andrew Smiley, met five ago.

To help educate the market, the company is busy creating a full manual and a training program. It is also using money raised on Kickstarter to develop a free dream journal app to help people who want to try lucid dreaming. To facilitate all this it is conducting advertising through social media and has plans to launch a new-look website at the start of July.

“We are focused on building great hardware which means it can be difficult to concentrate on marketing,” says Schoonover.

One thing is certain, there is a lot of interest in sleep and dreaming generally, with companies like Hush and Kokoon popping up left right and centre. “This is the beginning of a large space,” says Schoonover. “It is unclear where the landscape has its peaks… but where iWinks fits in is in lucid dreaming.”

There are massive capabilities in dream control and making people more aware, he concludes. “There is a lot to learn about ourselves from our dreams.”


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