There's no virtual reality quite as authentic, immersive and, at times, terrifying as our own dreams. But for most of us, the moment we become aware we are in a dream we wake up. For those who have mastered the power of lucid dreaming, that's just when the fun begins.
Lucid dreaming is the exercise of dreaming while being aware that you're in the dream state, but it isn't something that happens easily; it requires training the brain to recognise a dream, which some people find difficult to do.
Startup Arenar wants to change that by helping anyone lucid dream without the hard work. It's created a device called the iBand+ designed to help induce both sleep and lucid dreams. It's not quite the fictional PASIV (Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVeneous) device depicted in Chris Nolan's Inception, but the idea isn't a million miles off.
iBand+ CEO Samir Raut told Wareable the idea came about because his wife and iBand+ co-creator, Purva, has a history of troubled sleep. They tried soothing music, but the inability to change its intensity with sleep phases meant it eventually woke her up.
"We could not find a solution that would be intelligent enough that it would tune to your sleep phases," said Raut.
So they took the EEG technology used by hospitals and shrunk it small enough so that it could be embedded in a wearable. The iBand+ is a device designed to help induce and improve sleep, and also help users to lucid dream. But is it all really so straightforward?
In order to make the subject aware they are dreaming, the iBand+ uses an audio-visual technique, emitting low intensity LED lights during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.
"This LED light in your dreams feels like an anomaly," according to Raut, who said that the audio element is achieved by playing sounds that should contradict what is happening in the dream.
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"This is not a sleep tracker, it is an active sleep inducer," Raut emphasised. There are many wearables, apps and other devices for tracking sleep quality already available, with varying quality, but iBand+ is designed to help people fall asleep and make sure they wake up feeling refreshed.
"The real measure isn't movement but brain waves. We exploit this brain-sensing technology to induce sleep, improve sleep and induce lucid dreams."
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And like dreams, in which you both create and perceive the world, the iBand+ analyses your sleep and uses that information to change the way the device works. "Everyone has different ways of dreaming," said Raut, and so it's important for the technology to understand how your habits differ from someone else's.
"When you enter a dream your heart rate increases, your body temperature increases, but when you are in a lucid dream your heart rate normalises and body temperature normalises, so our algorithm will pick up these cues and make itself better."
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The company wants to eventually tie the iBand+ into the smart home, taking it to the point where it could adjust the temperature of your room if it detects that you're too cold and finding it hard to sleep comfortably.
With a Kickstarter campaign kicking off today, €50,000 in its sights, and a targeted €279 RRP for mid-next year, Arenar is going to have to work hard to convince people the science works.
Speaking to Wareable, Dr Stephen LaBerge, well-known pioneer of the study of lucid dreaming, was skeptical, calling the lack of evidence currently "a bad sign".
"The method of stimulating the eyes with LEDs on the forehead can be seen as inadequate by a 60-second experiment with a small flashlight" he said. There's also the problem that the last device to promise something like this, the Aurora, still hasn't shipped - nearly three years since the project launched - leaving a lot of people disappointed.
When we asked Raut about the science, he said that they had been working closely with a sleep therapist throughout the process. "We have been doing clinical analysis on sleep for the last five months and we are getting amazing results with it," he added.
We'll stay optimistic for now that Arenar may have found the secret to letting us take control of our dreams. If you're interested, you can find the Kickstarter campaign here.