There’s a famous saying about things that sound too good to be true. Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep an open mind about things when it comes to emerging technology.
A Florida startup company that made a splash at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is selling a seemingly irresistible concept: A wearable device that gives you all the benefits of a runner’s high, minus the pesky tradition of actually running.
Dubbed Nervana, the device pairs with your phone or music player to add low-power electric nerve stimulation to the audio feed going into your ear. According to the design team, the electrical pulse — timed with the beat of the music — triggers the brain’s vagus nerve, which in turn releases feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These are the “reward” chemicals that the brain generates in response to stimuli like exercise or sex.
Artificial stimulation of the vagus nerve is nothing new, Nervana’s developers say. But they’ve come up with a way to do it without surgery or other invasive techniques. The device’s proprietary earbud technology delivers electrical stimulation to the inside surface of the ear canal and, thereby, the vagus nerve, according to the company’s promotional materials.
What’s more, the Nervana headphones analyze the audio signal coming in from your music player then generate targeted vagus nerve stimulation synchronized with the music signal. Or not: In ambient mode, the headphones don’t need an electronic input signal at all — they’ll key the nerve pulses to go along with whatever music or sound is in the immediate environment. At a concert, say.
As of now, there’s not much hard evidence backing up the company’s claims. And since the device is being marketed as a lifestyle and wellness device, the company doesn’t need any medical or FDA approval. But the Nervana development team has several MDs on board, and anecdotal reports from this year’s CES suggest that something is going on with the Nervana headphones.
The company plans to start selling pre-orders for the $299 headphones in the next couple of weeks, with delivery slated for sometime this spring. Rock on.