CES 2014: Toronto’s InteraXon makes wearable tech splash

When the principals behind InteraXon headed to the Consumer Electronics Show for the first time in 2011, all they really had was an idea. It was an offbeat one to be sure, since it took the form of a headband that allowed wearers to control things with just the power of their thoughts. Now, three years later, the Toronto-based startup has millions of dollars in funding and 20 staff members supporting a sizeable booth at the annual Las Vegas techno-circus in the build-up to their first-ever product launch.

They’re all sporting a Muse, the company’s new brainwave-controlled relaxation-aid headband, which is launching this spring for $299. The booth itself is notable since it hosts a big, inflated plastic igloo. That’s not so much a symbol of the company’s Canadian-ness, but rather a necessary respite from the noisy show floor, where attendees can use Muse to calm their minds.

It’s been an exciting ride, with this year’s CES representing the culmination of a long road to market, says chief executive Ariel Garten.

“I’m regretting that we don’t have more staff to bring down here. You have to have booth babes, but our booth babes also happen to be neuroscientists and engineers,” she jokes.

Garten and her colleagues first made waves – no pun intended – in 2010, when their brainwave technology allowed users at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to remotely control the lights on the CN Tower, all the way on the other side of the country.

In 2011, they went down to CES mainly as spectators, but they also demoed a simple brainwave-controlled iPad game to onlookers as they prowled the show floor. The following year, they landed a small piece of real estate in the booth of graphics chip maker Nvidia, where they again demonstrated the technology and took feedback from attendees.

That led to a focusing of energies. “Everyone is very excited about controlling stuff with their minds, but controlling technology with your mind is a good decade away,” Garten says. “We spent a year honing the technology so that it would be a meaningful part of your life.”

The result was the Muse, a thin plastic headband that connects to a tablet app, which then coaches its user to relax through a variety of exercises. Calming one’s mind, Garten says, allows a person to achieve better cognitive function, memory and attention span, and has positive effects on other physical attributes such as blood pressure. The app tracks the user’s progress by reading brainwave activity through the headband.

Last year’s CES represented a coming-out party for the Muse, which had just finished blowing through its goals on crowd-sourcing site Indiegogo. Having raised nearly $300,000, InteraXon was able to fine-tune the device and then publicize it at the event.

The inevitable attention at the show led to some serious investor cash, with the company announcing in the summer that it had raised $6 million in Series A financing from Horizon Ventures, OMERS Ventures and Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments, among others.

Muse is now in production and the timing works out perfectly for the company. So-called wearable gadgets are front and centre of the hype wave at this year’s CES, so InteraXon happens to be coming to market at an opportune time.

“There are enough wearables that have been around long enough for people to believe they are valuable and meaningful and there are enough new wearables coming out for people to think, ‘Oh my god, this is exciting and things are happening,” Garten says.

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