For elite athletes, being able to tune out distractions is practically a requirement. But that doesn't mean it comes easy.
To prepare for matches at this year's Olympics, some athletes are now listening to music composed by robots. According to Newsweek, the U.S. wrestling team has turned to Brain.fm, a startup that makes tunes meant to help listeners relax, focus, or go to sleep.
The music contains barely detectable vibrations that align with the frequencies naturally emitted by the brain, according to the company. This way, co-founders Adam Hewett and Junaid Kalmadi told Inc. in June, the music can coerce the brain into the desired state. It's a process known as brainwave entrainment--stimulating the brain with pulsing light or sound.
The U.S. wrestlers, who often find themselves amped up after a day of working out and practicing, have been using the music largely to get a good night's rest. "Sleep is critical to the recovery of our athletes after hard practices," Matt Lindland, the U.S. team's coach, told Newsweek, "and this was the main thing I wanted to address leading up to and during Rio 2016."
Olympic team captain Robby Smith said he listens to the focus sessions to get in the zone before practice. According to Brain.fm, those tracks can give listeners that extra jolt they need. "It's not exactly like coffee," Hewett said, "but you'll know it's coming on. That difference will be quite obvious within a few minutes."
The focus sessions, which 90 percent of listeners use, also make use of 3-D space when listened to through a pair of headphones. The music begins near the sides of a person's head, then moves in front of him or her, drawing attention to the area in front of the face.
To create the tunes, Brain.fm uses thousands of "mini-bots" with artificial intelligence that are all given identities such as a piano note or drum beat. The bots then arrange themselves over many measures, with patterns gradually emerging so that the track has some musical flow to it. "It sounds like good music," Hewett said. "What it's actually doing is stimulating the brain very precisely."
Hewett and Kalmadi founded the company, which employs nine remote employees, in 2014, with $100,000 of their own cash. Using AI bots allows the startup to produce the music at a much faster pace than if done by humans--one track can be completed in minutes. It also allows the company to make music that works much more precisely, the co-founders say. While brainwave entrainment was once intended to get results within weeks or months, Brain.fm says its technology works within minutes.
The startup offers listeners seven free sessions with the hope that they'll get hooked. A subscription then costs $9.95 per month or $59.88 per year.