Hitachi has introduced a wearable brain scanner targeted at a variety of applications, one of which is neuromarketing. The halo-like device is portable, allowing it to be worn while performing normal activities – perhaps even shopping. Of course, the wearer would look like he just stepped off the set of a cheesy science fiction movie circa 1960… not exactly a perfect simulation of real behavior. Nevertheless, devices like this provide vastly more freedom than fMRI machines or other types of fixed scanning devices. The Hitachi wearable scanner uses optical topography to measure changes in blood flow to different areas of the brain – multiple laser diodes are used. (Detailed article in Japanese, and a Google translation.)
The ring of sensing equipment is installed on the subject’s head (from the photos, it doesn’t appear that head shaving is required) and tethered to a recording device worn on the subject’s waist. Data can be recorded for downloading or transmitted via WiFi. Hitachi describes the scanning technology:
Weak near infrared light of about 1.5mW from a laser diode is illuminated onto head from optical fibers attached to the scalp. This light passes through the skull and reaches the cerebral cortex. It penetrates to a depth of about 30mm, and is scattered by hemoglobin in the blood. The light is partially reflected back through the scalp. The reflected light back on the scalp contains the information about the cerebral cortex.
At this point, we don’t really know whether this kind of scanning system will have valuable applications in neuromarketing or other types of research, but we’re happy to see a firm of Hitachi’s stature pursuing this technology. As goofy as this device looks, it would allow scientists a lot more flexibility than having to slide subjects into a massive fMRI machine that gives the subjects extremely limited options for interaction with their environment.