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Snapchat acquires NextMind

Kenton Reynolds

Kenton Reynolds, Writer
@uxconnections

In a recent takeover, Snapchat has acquired a brain-computer interface (BCI) specialist – NextMind – with the intention of developing a next generation of Spectacles.

Last week’s press release from Snapchat introduced the social media giant’s newest subsidiary; NextMind is a groundbreaking neurotech firm. Their Dev Kit, priced at $399, offers an effective way to control physical objects with the brain through their head-mounted, non-intrusive hardware. The NextMind Sensor attaches to the head like a headband and is relatively small and sleek. It is certainly noticeable, but not noticeably ugly when worn and on their website, we see examples of it smoothly fitting under a cap or VR headset.

The Sensor uses ECG to detect electrical signals which are then decoded through a machine learning algorithm. NextMind talks about 4 stages in the process of BCI: Tag, Sense, Decode and Activate. Objects that can be interacted with have faint, pulsing, fuzzy graphic Tags stuck on them; the design of which is optimised for visual cortex stimulation. Your reaction is then Sensed by the hardware’s 9 contacts on the back of your head. The electrical impulses are then Decoded by a machine learning algorithm in order to recognize the visual focus of the user. Finally, the selected object is Activated and reacts to your focus. Essentially, looking and focusing on an object causes it to change.

Snapchat plan on integrating NextMind into Snap Labs; the research team that is developing the integration of augmented and virtual reality in Snapchat’s technology, especially the Spectacles. The Spectacles currently offer some limited AR experiences with 3D programs too that create an impressive experience for the user. However, usage is very limited and not particularly functional. Their novelty factor is high but, for the vast majority of users, is far from meriting the £330 price tag. We may see a much more advanced pair of glasses with the addition of NextMind with the possibility of a BCI where no buttons or other devices are needed to control the specs. Spectacles already have AR, and with NextMind’s technology could look at developing a HUD for users to control their hardware; a sure value-adder to the product.

Snapchat have confirmed that NextMind will still run independently and from their current office in Paris. The value of the acquisition is remaining undisclosed to the public for now, but it seems like it could certainly bring some value into Snapchat.

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