The Lamp That Can Tell How Focused You Are

Clara combines EEG technology with ambient lighting to help users concentrate.

Kari Paul

Kari Paul

(Image: Josh Sucher)

Imagine you are studying for an exam, when your mind begins to drift. As your focus dwindles and you lose yourself in thought, you suddenly notice a pulsating rosy pink light that snaps you back to reality.

That is how Clara, a new smart lamp that uses EEG technology, works. The project was created by developers Marcelo Mejía Cobo, Belen Tenorio, and Josh Sucher for a class at the School of Visual Arts. The light and speaker in the device respond to changes in brainwaves, reacting to the user's level of concentration by increasing the ambient music and shifting the light levels.

The team combined several components to create the brain-sensing lamp, including Arduino Uno (the code is available on Github), Adafruit NeoPixels LEDs, and a Bluetooth-connected Neurosky MindWave Mobile EEG headset that measures user brain activity.

"We wanted the project to center on concentrating, and the act of developing concentration for a sustained period of time," Mejía Cobo said at the NYC Media Lab Summit, where the team displayed the project on Friday.

Surrounded by the distracting chatter of hundreds of people in a crowded room there, I tried on the headset while chatting with Mejía Cobo. As I listened to his words, the lamp slowly changed from a warm pink light to a darker blue, increasing in intensity the more I focused.

The team tweaked the software to delay the light's reactions to the EEG readings by 4-7 seconds to better reflect user concentration as it happens. Although the shift of a light may seem like a nebulous way to measure focus, Mejía Cobo said the data they collect shows the readings are actually quite accurate. He said the team believes Clara could have a variety of real-world uses.

"We think the lamp will help you work and concentrate, and I can imagine it will have many applications," he said. "In relationships it will give you feedback to know if your partner is actually paying attention to you. We had one doctor who treats kids with ADHD say this would be a very good exercise to develop your concentration."

He said the next step for the group plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign so they can fund more developments on the project, including an app that shows more specific data.