Los Angeles Business Journal

Software Firm Sees Brain as Smart Move

Technology: BLife joins field looking to get human mind in shape By Tom Dotan Monday, December 9, 2013

Software developers, forever looking for new platforms to manipulate, have taken an interest in the ultimate piece of retro hardware: the brain.

It’s a gutsy move from the tech industry given the device’s shortcomings. Most models, for instance, can’t outcalculate even a lower-end smartphone, and the retina display is sorely lacking.

The battery life is decent, though. And best of all, most people already have one.

That bodes well for Santa Monica tech company bLife, the latest entrant in the nascent field of neuroscience-driven ventures specializing in the art of “brain hacking.”

The company last week launched an online program it describes as “a personal fitness program for the mind.” The software gives users a 20-question personality test and uses the responses to create a mental training regimen. BLife then runs people through a tailored set of brain games and meditation techniques designed to help them become focused, relaxed and happy.

BLife is for the moment strictly a Web app, but there are plans to release an iPhone app early next year. The cost for this ongoing program is $14.95 a month.

It might sound silly (and pricey), but in a harried culture where people are married to their devices, a growing number of startups are offering solutions to the scourge of high stress and wavering mental energy.

They’re also addressing the problem in a distinctly high-tech way: treating the mind as a device that can be analyzed, quantified and trained.

“Where once the brain was a black box, now we’re starting to see what’s going on,” said Paul Campbell, bLife’s co-founder and chief executive. “Consumer technology is proving that it can play a valuable role in psychological health.”

Other local companies have similarly boarded the industry’s mental wellness wagon. Melon, a Venice startup that’s part of tech accelerator MuckerLab’s latest class, has developed a headband that measures your brain’s electrical activity. Readings from the thin, flexible device are sent to a smartphone app, which in turn recommends ways to keep your mind at peak focus.

The Melon headband is the work of Arye Barnehama and Laura Berman, who both studied the brain mapping field of electroencephalography, or EEG, while researchers at Pomona College. This summer, a funding campaign on Kickstarter brought Melon $290,000 in donations from more than 2,000 people. It was almost three times the project’s initial goal.

The co-founders said Melon’s initial success is another instance of the growing fascination with the “quantifiable self” – a belief that our activities, both physical and mental, should be tracked and measured.

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