Transcript: Space4U podcast, Devon Greco
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello. I am Colleen Kiernan with the Space Foundation. And you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today. We are joined by Devon Greco. Founder and CEO of Narbis. Devon is an entrepreneur product engineer and pathogen inventor focused on brain machine interfaces and neuropsychology while specializing in human enhancement techniques, he has 18 years’ experience developing neurotechnology and neurofeedback with a focus on clinical and consumer applications.
Narbis was recently named the latest Space Foundation Space Certification partner, certified products often set the standard for innovation, comfort, convenience, and dependability licensed use of the space. Certified seal allows companies like Narbis that produce and market these products to tie their businesses to the excitement of space while helping inform the public of how space exploration directly benefits life on earth.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Devon. Thank you for having me Coleen pleasure to be here. Wonderful. So as we were just talking, um, you know, Narbis is recently added to the list of the space certified partners here, um, with the space foundation. So something that a lot of people may not know about this program is these are all technologies that originally come from.
The space, there were space techs that sent adapted for life here on earth and the, that such as you have now kind of the good housekeeping seal of approval, except it’s the space foundation seal of approval. So that means that the product that you all have on is actually using space tech. So the tech you’re using was originally a NASA technology.
Can you explain the original tech and the original purpose of the algorithm that’s used in it? Absolutely happy to, uh, NASA’s original rationale for developing the technology we’re using known as the engagement index was to determine the optimum level of engagement for an individual to gain peak performance in any given task.
And determining how engaged a person can be at a task can be rather difficult. And there are several ways to measure engagement. And one such method is to use physiologic measures. And in 1995, a team from NASA led by Dr. Alan Pope proposed an algorithm known as the engagement index, which tracks three separate brain patterns using EEG.
Which is like EKG for the heart, but for the brain. And these three patterns are known as beta alpha and beta. Whereas beta is a faster brain pattern associated with focus and concentration while alpha and beta are more slower patterns associated with relaxation and distraction. And the engagement index that NASA developed, there’s an algorithm and it’s expressed as beta waves divided by alpha plus beta waves so that when your brain is producing very fast focused patterns, the engagement index produces a higher score indicating that you’re more engaged in the tasks that you’re doing.
And when your brain is producing more slower daydreamy patterns, the index produces a lower score indicating that you’ve become less engaged in NASA. In collaboration with the federal aviation association identified a concern in aviation. And stress and workloads. And with this implementation of more sophisticated autopilot systems taking over more of the monotonous operations in the cockpit, they found that pilots could grow bored, complacent, and disengaged.
And they’ve identified that these are conditions that are just as dangerous as being overwhelmed. And an incident later that year, in which a series of pilot errors ended with an American airlines flight crashing into a mountain while preparing to land in Cali, Colombia, it killed 159 people and that intense intensified interest in the subject a little bit later in 2001, Dr.
Pope and researchers from old dominion university. Published a paper describing the application of the engagement index to attempt to train subjects, to regulate their own engagement level. The trading relied on what is known as a biofeedback loop in one group subjects. Uh, what view their own engagement index on a scale from one to six while they performed a given task and they were told to try to maintain a level of three or four, uh, other groups were provided random feedback or no feedback at all.
And after just one week, the subjects perform the task. Again, those who did not receive any feedback remain closer to their baseline normal engagement level. While those who did receive feedback, outperform the others. So they had actually learned to regulate responses that are normally beyond our control and that paper concluded that this physiological self-regulation training could help pilots managing, maintain their attention.
That is really interesting just to think of, you know, we don’t always realize when we maybe get a little off task sometimes. Um, so it’s great to, to make sure we’re doing it, especially when you’re looking at saving lives. So obviously you’ve adapted this product or this technology, the algorithm for your product.
Can you tell us how you’ve adapted it for us here on earth? Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, there’s a lot of different distractions in our world today with increased, uh, technology use, uh, with our phones and online and social media. And all of these things are creating increased distraction and are actually impacting our ability to pay attention and day-to-day life.
And so we’ve adopted the NASA engagement index to help people practice attention during real life activities. So I’ll talk a little bit about how we’ve adapted that a simple algorithm to help people practice attention in real life. And at the very heart of the engagement index is a relatively simple calculation.
It’s the power of fast attention patterns divided by the power of slow distraction patterns. However, there’s a few more steps to convert that relatively simple calculation into an easy to understand visual feedback, to help people concentration with the novice smart glasses. So our novice smart glasses have three sensors built into the frame one behind each year.
And another sensor on top of the head. And again, these are measuring EEG or brain patterns. The patterns are transmitted to our app, writing on a tablet and the app then processes these brain patterns by a series of proprietary and very specialized digital signal processing techniques that allow us to measure the power of focus patterns.
And also the power of distracted patterns and these patterns are then set into the NASA engagement index algorithm. And because these are trade secrets, I can’t go into too much detail here, but there are several features that make our implementation of the engagement index. Rather unique first instead of the algorithm producing a score on a scale from one to six, we’ve adapted it to produce a score from zero to a hundred, whereas a low engagement score triggers the novice snow smart glasses to change tint.
And a high engagement score causes the lenses to return clear. And because we’re using a score from zero to a hundred percent, the lenses are able to smoothly change from fully clear to fully tinted like a dark shade of sunglasses and anywhere in between. Additionally, we’ve adopted a technique known as dynamic thresholding, which allows the algorithm to automatically adjust the difficulty of the feedback based on your current performance.
So the system is con constantly monitoring your performance and every 15 seconds, it decides to make the feedback more difficult if you’re performing really well so that you can continue to be challenged or decides to make the feedback easier. If your performance
or frustrated or overwhelmed, and unlike earlier, forms of biofeedback technology that require constant clinical supervision, it is with these adaptive techniques that allows novice, smart glasses to work in people’s homes. That is really interesting. Uh, you know, we were looking at the website. I notice there’s a lot of pictures of kids using the product.
Um, is this only for children or is this for anyone? I mean, obviously it’s. Your original tech was, you know, for pilots and that sort of thing. It seems like it could be for anybody. It really can be for anybody we’ve identified a very high unmet need for adolescents, uh, and the need to practice attention to complete things like homework and schoolwork and studying.
Um, the glasses are adjustable, so it does fit most heads. And anyone above the age of six can use the glasses. And because of our advanced algorithms, the system will automatically adjust to fit your current engagement level. And while our clinical pilots have focused mostly on children, six to 17 adults have found benefit as well.
I will mention, however, novice is not yet an approved medical device for treating ADHD or any other condition. And because novice encourages and rewards changes in brain activity, those who have diagnosed conditions. Should only use novice under the supervision of a doctor. Now, there are some studies that have demonstrated that neurofeedback easy equivalently, effective to ADHD medication, and we aim to demonstrate the same for novice in the future.
That’s really awesome to hear. And yeah, I’m just, I’m just really fascinated by this. And you’ve kind of explained a little bit about kind of the different sensors and you know, how it is scanning the brain. Can you give us just a little more detail for our listeners of, you know, how, how the glasses work?
How exactly do they know? How does this algorithm know that you’ve actually stopped paying attention or you’ve gone off task? Sure. So, first of all, the glasses are worn for about 30 minutes, a few times a week, or up to about five times a week while you’re doing some cognitive activity like reading, working on the computer or for children while they’re doing homework or studying.
And while you’re doing your activity and wearing the novice glasses, the NASA algorithm. Tracks your brain patterns and will cause the glasses to tense. If your brain patterns become slower, alerting you that you’ve become distracted and giving you the cue to get back, to get back on task. And when the NASA algorithm detects that your brain patterns have become faster and that your focus has restored, the glasses will clear again, reinforcing the practice of attention.
And what makes novice glasses so special and unique compared to other biofeedback products is the use of tinting glasses, which allows you to receive feedback on attention during literally any everyday activity. When concentration counts most, uh, some users have anecdotally reported that it helps give them things, uh, help them get things done quicker, such as the boy Marcus, in the video, on our website, who claims when he wears an Arbus, his homework time is cut in half.
Most other biofeedback instruments require the use of a digital screen and a video game, which becomes a dedicated activity. And can’t really be integrated into daily life. Additionally, some researchers have questioned whether high stimulation feedback, like a video game is really appropriate for practicing attention and whether the practice can transfer into real life activities, like a low stimulation classroom, where most.
Children have difficulty paying attention. Many researchers have also argued that attention practice should be only completed in low stimulation environments that replicate the situations where people normally have difficulty sustaining attention. And because novice is used in real life situations that require attention.
The question of how that practice of attention transfers into real life is really no longer a concern because the practice is completed in everyday activities. So, is there a calibration process when you first use them? Do you need to be kind of on task at least a little when you start, so that it’s recognizing the brain patterns when you are focused or can it recognize maybe if I’m doing something and realize, well, I need to focus and then I can put them on and maybe I’m not focused right away.
Would it recognize that or is there a calibration process to start with? There is a calibration process that begins the moment you put the glasses on and you begin the training program. Uh, that calibration process is completed in the first 30 seconds. And then after that, the system continues to calibrate itself to your current attention performance level, uh, throughout the training.
So it’s constantly adapting and constantly calibrating as you progress and you get better and then it’ll make it. Easier if you’re not doing so well. So it doesn’t challenge you so much. Uh, so to, to get started, it’s just a matter of putting the glasses on and starting your activity, trying to do your best to focus.
And most people report after a few minutes of wearing the glasses that they’ve sort of forgotten that they’re wearing them. And all of a sudden they’re in the zone and they’re totally focused on what they’re doing and all those distractions just naturally disappear. Hey, awesome. Now I was really curious.
Um, you mentioned that we have the three sensors, the two behind the ears and the one on top of the head. Um, you know, especially if we’re looking at children, um, you, the other younger, they might have a full head of hair. Um, can hair cause any issues with the connectivity for that top sensor? With our system hair is not an issue.
This used to be an issue many years ago with earlier forms of EEG technology, where you had to clean the scalp and a braid, the scalp part, the hair, and you had to use a, a special gel electrode paste. And it was a very messy process. But with today’s technology, we’re, we’re able to measure EEG. Through the hair, uh, with specialized sensors and electronics, and we have adapted in our system, a, um, a special sensor, that’s able to just very gently comb through the hair and make contact with flexible touch pads on the top of the head.
So a full head of hair is not a problem. Curly hair is not a problem. Uh, just a matter of placing that sensor in the proper location and beginning your training. Awesome. That’s all I could think of at first, as you said, the, the older technologies and thinking of like the AED machines that they come with a little razor, if you have to revive someone who’s maybe passed out and that’s all I could think of at first was, well, I’m sure most parents aren’t going to want, you know, a little bald spot on their kid’s head.
So that’s awesome that even the curly hair children don’t have to worry about it. That’s exactly right. So can you tell us, where did this idea originate from? No. I’ve been working with, uh, biofeedback and neurofeedback technology since early in my career in the late nineties. And I’ve been exposed to a lot of different types of neurofeedback and biofeedback technologies.
And through my career, I’ve identified that one of the biggest shortcomings of traditional neurofeedback. Is its inability to be used in real life situations since they all require staring at a digital screen or listening to sounds. And I had an, uh, uh, previous official NASA spinoff company, which also use the engagement index and that technology interfaced with any video game.
Or movie to provide feedback on attention. And it’s, it’s always been a long-term goal of mine to make neurofeedback even more immersive and to find even more ways to integrate it with real life. And with this official NASA spinoff company, while I was managing technical support issues for customers, I was contacted by a bobsled Olympian who wanted to practice his attention for the upcoming Olympics.
In an environment that replicated, uh, the, the bobsled race that he was used to. And so we found some very simple video games with very basic graphics. Cause this was, this was in the early 2000s when graphics weren’t really sophisticated. And it was just enough to replicate this bobsled race environment that he was used to.
And he was able to use this video game and sort of train in the environment that he wanted to practice for. Uh, and so it was through this process that I recognized the power of bringing this type of training and feedback into real life environments. Several years later. In 2011, I was caring for my father in the later stages of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
And unfortunately, once he was bedridden and could no longer move or communicate, I developed a portable eye tracking system that enabled him to use his eyes as a keyboard on a computer screen. And that I gave him a voice. And it was through the development of this eye tracking system, which also combined with glasses along with some other work I was doing at the time with virtual reality, augmented reality that really planted the idea for novice.
And then the light bulb just went off for me. Combined biofeedback into glasses that tent, and this eliminates the need for a digital screen and opens up biofeedback to almost any activity. And in January six, 2013, just a month before my father passed, I was able to tell him about my idea for novice. And he was so excited, a quote from my dad’s email.
They, after that light bulb went off. I been giving lots of spot to the shutter glasses concept, Devon introduced last night and think it could be a real game changer in brain cell. Self-regulation the novelty is anything in one’s environment that can be seen. Can serve as feedback through a video overlay, not restricted to having a device provide feedback.
This type of system expands the way training can be conducted, using anything in the environment for training, anything that has seen or heard through visual auditory overlay. It also answers the layman question as how does, how does the benefits of neurofeedback externalized to the environment as training can actually be conducted in the environment?
That’s wonderful. It’s so great that you were able to share that with him because, you know, it’s my understanding that he did pass before the fells fully came to fruition. So I’m so glad that he got to at least get that initial concept from you. So I’m sure that that was rewarding in itself. It certainly was.
Absolutely. And, you know, speaking about your father, um, I know you did a lot of work with your father before his passing. Can you tell us about what it was like working with your father and how he inspired you? Um, happy to. So I, uh, I started working with my father, as I mentioned to me in the late nineties, he was a clinical psychologist and he ran treatment facilities here on the East coast and Pennsylvania, and also on the West coast in California.
And he used this type of biofeedback and neurofeedback technology in his clinics to help individuals practice attention. He also helped, uh, with insomnia, depression, anxiety. He was able to take this neurofeedback technology and use it to help his clients in a lot of diverse ways. And I realized the power of this technology, watching him have the ability to just transform someone’s life.
Someone who has a, just a, someone who’s very desperate, a very serious problem. And through the use of this technology training to really rehabilitate and improve normal functioning in everyday life. So just watching him as a child and watching him run the clinics and see all these patients really transform their life.
It really inspired me to, to really sort of follow in his footsteps and continue that path of, of helping people. Um, and it was in 1999 that we came across these patents from NASA, which interface neurofeedback with off the shelf, video games like PlayStation and Xbox. And we applied for those patents and we became the exclusive licensee of the NASA patents.
And in 2003, we commercialized the first video game-based neurofeedback system that was sold to clinicians. And in 2005, we commercialize the first video game based neurofeedback systems sold direct to consumer, and that technology was sold over the years. And. Help thousands of people, uh, rehabilitate attention at home using video games.
And it was just through this process that I, uh, just really connected with the power of this technology. And, uh, just decided that this is my life’s work, and I need to continue to find ways to help people by bringing this life-changing technology into daily life. That’s so great. And I can only imagine that.
Um, you know, parents might be a little more drawn to this, um, compared to you’ve mentioned, you know, a lot of video games had, you know, kind of the similar benefits to try to, you know, work with some focus on the attention. And, um, I can imagine most parents would rather get their kids off the video games.
To pay attention to the books and the homework and that sort of thing. So I’m sure that’s definitely a pro for many parents out there looking for ways to help get their kids focused on things that’s right. Non video game based therapy. Right. Do you have any other products in the works, anything similar or, um, other ways of using the algorithm possibly.
We, we do, um, have a few more products that we’re working on. We are working on, uh, expanding the novice glasses to not only help children and adults, but also a, an optimized algorithm to help with the cognitive effects of aging. You know, there’s, there’s so many people today that are, um, growing old and really concerned about their cognitive performance as they age.
And many people are looking for tools to help them keep what they have and not, not lose their, their ability to remember their family or remember their names or to, uh, to live a normal life. And so we will be in the near future, developing some applications to help with those cognitive effects of aging and to help people really keep what they have.
And in addition to that, you know, novice truly is a platform technology and neurofeedback Cal Davis neurofeedback studies have demonstrated efficacy using this technology in a lot of other applications outside of just attention performance. You know, I mentioned earlier, um, my father would. Customize this technology for depression, for insomnia, even for traumatic brain injury.
And we are looking forward to developing clinical applications in the future that can help, uh, people in, in some of these other verticals, outside of just attention and focus in the future. And you mentioned earlier that, you know, it is currently not considered a medical device. Um, are there any plans you said, you know, we’re going, it looks like some clinical trials, you know, coming up for some of these other things.
Is that an ambition to have this be considered a medical device where maybe it would be used in a doctor’s office? Yes. That is a future opportunity for novice and something we’re exploring as we move into 2020. Awesome. Well, it’s very intriguing and definitely a really cool idea. You know, someone had mentioned earlier, I was telling him we were going to be doing this and they kind of went to shock therapy.
And I said, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not that. And that’s, what’s so great about it is because. It’s a healthy way to have that positive reinforcement to helping us stay on, on track. We do hear a lot of times of, you know, the ways things would be done in the past. And luckily technology has taken us to a place where we can do things in a safe environment.
And I mean, you even said, you can do this at home. You know, you don’t have to have the doctor’s supervision for it. So that’s really wonderful. So, can you tell me, Devon is the product currently available for people to purchase the product currently is available for pre-order on our [email protected] and we’re expecting shipment of the product to our customers in January.
Awesome. And then that’s going to have the seal of approval on it as well. Right? Absolutely. Awesome. That’s what we love to see. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Devon. Um, really, really fascinating. And you know, I definitely know some people including myself, so there’s probably benefit from your product.
So we’re definitely going to be looking more into that, but we really appreciate you having on the show today. Thank you so much, Colleen. Pleasure. Wonderful. Well, that does conclude this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. Keep your eyes and ears open for more Space4U episodes by checking out our social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
And of course our website at www.space foundation.org on all of these outlets and more, it is our goal to inspire. Educate connect and advocate for the space community because of the space foundation. We will always have space for you. Thank you for listening.
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