Varjo’s headsets have long been the most technologically capable in terms of display. They might be about to become the most technologically capable in terms of data collection through a partnership with OpenBCI.
An Intro to OpenBCI’s Work in XR
You probably already know about Varjo, but OpenBCI might not be on your radar yet if you’re strictly in the XR world. The company makes brain-computer interfaces. It specializes in things like electrode caps that are surprisingly affordable and surprisingly available.
OpenBCI also works with electromyography (EMG) – nervous muscle interactions. These electrical signals have been creeping into the XR conversation recently with companies like Meta looking into EMG for advanced user interfaces.
“The Galea facepad has a number of EMG sensors that we’ve been using as inputs in some of our VR demos,” OpenBCI founder and CEO, Conor Russomanno, said in an email to ARPost. “I think EMG is always going to be the way to go for active control. Where Galea’s other sensors come into play is for more passive feedback loops between the brain/body and digital experiences.”
“Galea,” is a headset that combines biosensing and spatial computing. It’s been on the OpenBCI website for a while now. But, there wasn’t much information about it – or any information, just an application for early access to a beta program with an as-yet-unannounced launch date. We just learned a lot more about the headset expected to ship next year.
Where Varjo Comes in
“Varjo is proud to join forces with OpenBCI and expand access to the highest-fidelity VR to the research and developer community looking to pioneer new understandings of the human body and mind,” Varjo co-founder and CTO, Urho Konttori, said in a release shared with ARPost. “The integration will allow Galea users to unlock the most immersive VR experience available.”
The Galea beta system described in the release sounds like a heavily sensor-laden Aero – the first consumer-first headset by Varjo announced last autumn. Through OpenBCI’s tech, the Galea will also be able to detect information on the user’s “heart, skin, muscles, eyes, and brain.” While Varjo is the first partner and Aero is the first headset, Russomanno said that Galea will eventually work with other headsets as well.
“Ultimately, I see the combination of neurotechnology and mixed reality as the future of personal computers,” Russomanno said in the release. “We’ve been watching carefully as neuroscience, BCI, and consumer technology have converged over the past several years… I can’t wait to see what our Beta users will be able to create with Galea.”
An Omnicept Competitor?
Readers who are also closely watching this convergence may be thinking that this project sounds familiar. The go-to headset for collecting this kind of data is currently the HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition, which the company announced almost two years ago. There are some differences.
The Omnicept doesn’t measure brain and muscle response – though it does monitor heart stats. It uses these states, combined with facial tracking and gaze tracking, to determine things like cognitive load through AI. The Galea, on the other hand, would be able to jump over a lot of these calculations because it has a more competent sensor array.
That comes at a price. A literal price. After all, a Varjo Aero by itself ($1,990) already costs more than an Omnicept ($1,250). While a price tag wasn’t included in the release, Russomanno told ARPost that the full package of Galea beta hardware and software will cost a hefty $25,000 – with a $5,000 deposit for preorder.
So Much to Learn
“Our goal with this Beta version of Galea is to build a powerful dev kit for the unique cross-section of developers and researchers already exploring the intersection of neurotechnology and spatial computing,” Russomanno said. “I’m a strong believer that the future of computers will involve head-mounted displays and physiological sensors like the ones in Galea.”
The Galea is shaping up to be an incredibly powerful tool. Few people will need it, and fewer people will afford it. At least, right now. Remember that Galea is a research tool. The implications of what researchers and developers are able to learn with this powerful headset from Varjo and OpenCBI will be wide-ranging and long-lasting.