I'm still not terribly certain what to think of Foc.us's first and only product, the foc.us headset. Brainstormed by mechanical engineers Michael Oxley and Martin Skinner; to me it looks more like some sort of bizarre torture implement or brain scanner than any product meant for consumers; the saline sponges attached to the electrodes are eerily reminiscent of the Electric Chair. Further, the idea of sending an electrical current through one's mind, for any purpose...
Well, it seems like we're getting into the realm of mad science.
Still, the two engineers may well be onto something, and the science behind the product - a technique referred to as transcranial Direct Current Stimulation - checks out. Plus, foc.us isn't necessarily the first of its kind. See, brain enhancement has obviously been something that's interested scientists for decades, and in the past several years they've made some rather fascinating breakthroughs.
"It's become increasingly clear," writes Sally Adee science blog The Last Word on Nothing, "that applying an electrical current to your head confers similar benefits to more traditional methods of brain enhancement. US Military Researchers have had great success using transcranial direct current stimulation - in which they hook you up to what's essentially a 9-volt battery and let the current flow through your brain. After a few years of lab testing, they've found that they can more than double the rate at which people learn a wide range of tasks such as object recognition, math skills, and marksmanship."
Okay, that sounds pretty cool. But what sort of side effects would something like this have? Surely, brain batteries can't be terribly safe?
"The 20 minutes I spent hitting targets with electricity coursed through my brain were far from transcendent," continues Adee, who underwent an experiment which involved firing a modified M4 assault rifle. "I only remember feeling like I had an excellent cup of coffee, but without the caffeine jitters. I felt clear-headed and like myself, only sharper. Calmer. Without fear and without doubt. From there, I just spent the time waiting for a problem to appear so I could solve it...there were no unpleasant side effects. The bewitching silence of the tDCS lasted, gradually diminishing over a period of about three days."
Okay. So there are no apparent negative side effects, no dangerously-altered state of consciousness, and no damage done to any important body parts. So far so good, right? Even now, if you're anything like me, you've still got more than a few doubts about the concept.
Megan Geuss of Ars Technica sat down with the headset a few days ago, at the obtusely-named HAXLR8R. She described the headset as fitting rather comfortably, with a crescendo start to ensure the device doesn't get too jolting. The experience itself started with "a very noticeable, but somewhat pleasant shock in the rear left of my brain in addition to a light buzzy feeling all over my head. I started seeing white spots in my peripheral vision, especially in my upper right view."
The headset evidently includes a number of different settings, such as constant current, wave (rising and falling intensity), pulse, noise (random jumps) and sham(stopping and starting at random). It's meant only to be used for intervals between five and forty minutes; there hasn't really been any word on whether or not extensive use can cause serious harm.
We're always looking for ways to up our game; ways to make ourselves better, faster, and stronger. The foc.us headset might be just the ticket in that regard, though I can't say I'm sold on it quite yet. Don't get me wrong - the idea of being able to turn your focus razor-sharp without needing any sort of mind-altering drugs is incredible...but at the same time, I still can't quite wrap my head around the idea of electrifying my skull.
What do you folks think? Does foc.us sound like the kind of thing you'd want to use, or would you rather stick to coffee?