These brainwave mapping smart earphones could come to the rescue in dangerous situations when calling someone is not always possible.

Kochi Bengaluru engg students come up with panic-sensing earphones for womens safety
news Technology Friday, November 04, 2016 - 19:11

At a time when crimes against women are on the rise, four engineering students have developed a unique safety device.

The engineers, Nitin Vasanth, Fausya Amalh, Athul B Raj from Kochi and George Mathew from Bengaluru, have created earphones that send out a distress signal by measuring panic in an individual, who is trapped in a risky situation. They received the Accenture Innovation Jockeys 5 award for their innovation.  

After one of their common friends had a bad experience and with no such device available in the market, these young minds along with their long-time mentor Vivek Mohan came up with the idea of Neurobuds - a device that reads the brain waves to sense any neurological signals for panic, triggered in a person during a moment of crisis.

These brainwave mapping smart earphones could come to the rescue in dangerous situations when calling someone is not always possible.

Neurobuds is an automatic panic-detection wearable device that works by sensing sharp changes in brain activity of users. The changes are analysed by machine learning algorithms, which determine whether you are in a precarious situation or not. Hence, it enables you to send an SOS alert, without you having to reach out for your mobile phone.

“The device uses four electrodes that go inside both ears. It samples data and feeds it to the smartphone that runs an app we’ve developed. The app then processes the data with algorithms we wrote,” George Mathew, team-member and a graduate from Atria Institute of Technology, told ET.

While they had been working on Brain Computer Interface (BCI) for the past few years, the idea for this prototype was conceived a year ago. The idea was given concrete shape with help from resources provided by Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru , Kerala Startup Mission and FabLab, Kochi using the latest technologies like carbon nanotubes, 3D printing and rapid prototyping boards.

On its unique selling proposition, Nitin Vasanth told The News Minute that “Although there are numerous safety devices out there in the market, there’s none that detects panic automatically. Eliminating the need to manually press the trigger button gives more freedom for the user to focus on escaping from the situation.” 

“All over the world, researchers are trying to bring down the response time as low as possible and such an autonomous SOS system ensures minimum time is lost in the process.”

On the hurdles faced, Nitin pointed out, “The main challenge was working with reliable panic data. This is because you can never simulate panic state in a lab or fool the brain into producing a panic state.” 

George added that although they had tried to partially simulate the sense of panic with virtual reality headsets or by “getting people to imagine being panicked”, still the real panic often faced in such situations, was lacking. Hence, a lot of experimentation on different people to reduce the false positives was done. Even miniaturising the entire device to the size of earphones, served as a substantial challenge to overcome.

In addition to sensing panic, the earphones detect various other heightened or resting states of the brain, generally monitoring the entire mental state.

In an endeavor to make it more user friendly, the team has plans to refine the underlying machine learning algorithms and reduce the size of the device even further.

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