A  new headphone is helping athletes train for their sport 50 percent faster.

The technology, based on the concept of neuropriming, is already helping the military to train fighter pilots and snipers. Doctors also use the tech to help patients with chronic pain and epilepsy. Here's how it works. Electrical impulses transmitted to the brain open neural pathways to increase learning.

The headphones from Halo Neuroscience are designed to help athletes. They wear the Halo Sport headset for about 20 minutes. The United States Olympic Ski & Snowboard association uses the headphones and saw a 1.7x increase in performance. The NFL and Major League Baseball also use the headphones, which will debut in a consumer model this fall for anyone wanting to train faster for a sport.

Dr. Daniel Chao, the CEO of Halo Neuroscience, told me the entire concept is based on neuroplasticity, or the ability for humans to adapt to training and practice.

"Neuroplasticity is is how we learn new skills--from foreign languages to math, directions to the nearest cafe, and, for an athlete, physical movement and strength," he says. "Neuropriming, then, is the use of neurostimulation to facilitate neuroplasticity in our brain so that it responds better to training. In a nutshell, Neuropriming allows practice to be more productive for the brain just like a pre-work meal makes weight lifting more productive for the muscles."

In other words, the headphones prime the brain of an athlete for a training exercise, almost like a shake you drink before a workout. Chao mentioned it's important to see the difference between increasing brain power directly and how the Halo Sport headphones optimize the circuitry in the brain for training. "Interestingly, those with less training in their background stand to gain more since they have more dynamic range to grow--something that I'm very excited about personally," he says.

For now, the science is focused on athletes who are training for a marathon or a long bike tournament. The device focuses a waveform, or neurostimulation, on the brain's motor cortex, which is the part of the brain that governs movement.

"In the future, we have plans to build other products that help both the healthy and impaired with other skills governed by other parts of the brain," he says. "These future devices will have a more direct application to a traditional business setting. We have early data studies showing that we can help improve other areas of cognitive function, such as speaking a foreign language, and plan to build products to address those skills."

The retail price for the Halo Sport headphones will be $749. The device is well tested. There are over 2,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on neuropriming, and the company generated data from about 1,000 athletes as a test.  Chao says they plan to develop additional products that target other areas of the brain, although companies like Neuroconn, Neurolectrics and Soterix already make laboratory products that focus on increasing cognitive learning.

Could the company eventually help you type emails faster or learn how to make an app? Chao wouldn't say, but the brain is ready for that type of quick learning.

Published on: Jun 20, 2016
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