The human brain and how it functions has been a source of great mystery and wonderment, especially within the last century, as greater levels of medical science continue to expand upon our knowledge. An innovative company from Victoria, BC called SUVA Technologies has now successfully reached the summit of being able to assess cognitive brain function in conjunction with its innovative mobile app technology.
THE GROUNDBREAKING MEDICAL product developed by SUVA accurately measures cognitive function to obtain peak mental performance. It’s a mobile technology that is certain to revolutionize how companies, athletes and so many others live their lives.
Three science and business professionals came together about 2 ½ years ago to form SUVA Technologies – CEO Nolan Beise, Chief Science Officer Olav Krigolson and Chief Technology Officer Mark Alldritt.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Beise and Krigolson about this gamechanging technology.
In his previous business activities Beise had helped researchers innovate their technologies and partnerships with the private sector and he had known Krigolson as a researcher through that relationship.
“One day he came up to me and said he might have a business opportunity,” begins Beise. “He had been working on exploring the history of human health and brain assessment and looking at how to measure that as accurately as possible.”
Krigolson had pioneered a way to measure brain function with a mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) platform with the Muse™, an immersive meditation headband device that provides real-time feedback on your mental activity, heart rate, breathing, and body movements. Realizing they had a golden opportunity in front of them the trio decided to form a company based on Krigolson’s innovative technology and the ability to accurately measure cognition.
“We kind of built the company backwards. We already had a technology that was world leading and a world ﬁrst, but we then had to seek out a market around it and sectors that make sense,” continues Beise.
Krigolson is a neuroscientist with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Victoria and did post-graduate training at the University of British Columbia in medical neuroimaging after which he became a professor.
“As I continued running labs and research all of these new wearable technologies began emerging and one was in the EEG, or brainwaves,” notes Krigolson. “We got really interested in how you might be able to use this technology for mobile use. Before these wearable headbands you had to come in to a lab and get lots of electrodes on your head or you had to go to a hospital and into an MRI scanner.”
With each passing day the technology in this realm continues to broaden and the devices used become smaller, less cumbersome and more efficient. It’s now come to the point where one can accurately measure brain function from an iPhone or an iPad with the accompanying headband in a matter of minutes.
The revolutionary app developed by SUVA that can assess and monitor health and ﬁtness is called Aspire. It was officially unveiled in Las Vegas at the CES Digital Health Summit in January, 2019. “Aspire accurately measures a person’s cognitive function and will allow a person to optimize their cognitive acuity, or mental performance. Elite athletes can use this to understand when they are pushing their cognitive relay to its maximum capacity and also when they are burning out and training too hard or not sleeping enough or when the season is taking its toll on them,” says Beise.
Aspire also measures the minimum functional requirements to be able to perform accurately, which would be along the lines of cognitive fatigue. As example, a surgeon or an airline pilot or a mining truck driver needs to be certain that their work is conducted safely; anything less has the potential to cost lives or expensive equipment – or both.
“We can assess whether the task can be performed safely with our Aspire,” adds Beise.
As the most accurate mobile measure of cognitive function, the Aspire app is making the invisible visible for the ﬁrst time ever. People’s brains change in capacity at different times but there has never been an accurate way to measure just how much in terms of actual values – until now.
“When you understand your own cognition, typically you understand that is related to sleepiness. But there could be many other factors that can change the way your brain is able to perceive the world and understand the world accurately and that is ultimately what we measure,” explains Beise.
Aspire has the wherewithal to measure the brain’s ability to perceive the world around each individual person. The next step for Beise, Krigolson and the rest of the team at SUVA is to make the invisible visible and determine unparalleled procedures on how to move the needle in terms of managing fatigue and in optimizing human performance.
Despite being quite new to the marketplace Beise and Krigolson say their breakthrough technology has already caught the attention of a number of big players, which has led to an incredible amount of collaboration with the likes of multinational mining companies, multi hospital health authorities and pro sports teams.
The Muse™ headband is a commercially available product and is paired with SUVA’s proprietary software on an iOS device. An individual puts on the headband and then plays a game in order to assess the cognitive performance of the participant. The Muse™ typically retails for about $179 and the software is very affordable. SUVA is also in active discussions to have their Aspire technology available on Android devices.
“It’s deﬁnitely consumer affordable technology despite the fact our foundation market is in the business to business space,” says Beise.
“What we look for is how your brain responds to events in the game. It’s about a ﬁve-minute assessment. All of the analysis is done onboard the device itself but we can also provide further analytics beyond that, if needed,” explains Krigolson.
Supplementary testing is always preferred because it strengthens case studies and developing patterns to an even greater extent but Krigolson says the company’s database is now so comprehensive it has become much easier to make one-off assessments on brain function. For the ﬁrst time ever this technology has the capacity to personalize the assessment of a person’s cognitive function relative to themselves.
“We’ll develop your baseline, which takes a minimum of three separate measurements. From that baseline we can tell you where you are at on your own scale and which way you are trending,” explains Beise.
In collaboration with Krigolson’s research lab SUVA has now generated the largest cognitive function data set in the world with mobile EEG analytics with the ability to instantly compare a person to that data set and reveal if they are above, below or in the normal range of mental acuity.
Electroencephalogram technology tests and records brain activity by measuring voltage ﬂuctuations resulting from ionic current within the neurons of the brain.
“The best way to think about it is if you’ve seen a hospital TV show you’ve seen the ﬂatline monitoring the heart. They put a couple of electrodes over the heart and you can pick up the electrical activity of the heart muscle as it contracts. EEG is a similar technology where you put electrodes on the scalp and what you’re actually measuring is not muscle but rather the activity of neurons ﬁring,” explains Krigolson.
Ten years ago such testing would have required spending upwards of $100,000 to generate a system capable of measuring that type of brain function with accuracy. Now it can be done for a couple of hundred dollars thanks to the innovative technologies developed by Krigolson, Beise and the SUVA team.
EEG is a real-time assessment measurement of how your brain is performing in real time. There are other technologies that can examine the brain and its shape and formation and try to infer function based on that, but what EEG does is directly measure the function of the brain and using different types of research paradigms in the neuroscience ﬁeld, which gives researchers such as Krigolson an idea on how different parts of your brain are working and changing over time.
The process involves understanding a person’s natural cadence of cognitive fatigue throughout the day and when it is best to do work and when it is not.
“With corporate wellness we can look at issues as to when people are chronically fatigued and a state when they are perhaps a safety risk, beyond just a lack of efficiency,” says Beise. “Some of the most tired people I’ve measured are not who I’d expect. I’ve measured surgeons on mid-shift of a call schedule and they’ve been exhausted. Accountants from large accountancy ﬁrms were often as exhausted as the surgeons.”
Looking to the future
Beise, Krigolson and the team at SUVA have now started a new sector neurobiometrics. Biometrics is a means of measuring different parts of the body; now SUVA is able to provide the same metrics in examining the brain.
“Because consumer EEG devices are new to the market and because their ability to capture accurate information is new – with us – we are bringing the ability to deliver reliable information about the brain into a new sector,” says Beise.
The incredible innovative technologies being developed at SUVA are just the very beginning of a whole new and exciting understanding about brain health.
“We certainly haven’t perfected it, despite being the most accurate measurement of cognitive function that exists. There are many other constructs that we will be able to pull out of our data as we move along,” offers Beise.
The Aspire technology has quickly been proven to be game-changing technology. Now that it is in the public realm the next phase will be to take the customer pipeline and turn it into customers. Both Beise and Krigolson are looking at forming high-level partnerships where there are obvious synergies moving forward.
Beise says there are companies that want to understand their cumulative cognitive fatigue to get a sense of the baseline over their entire organization and where there are immediate pain points that can be addressed help their staff. SUVA is also already working with pro sports teams who want to improve on cognitive function.
“The big next step for us is turning the initial launch into revenue generation. The second big step from a product development side is understanding the functional signiﬁcance of what our numbers mean,” notes Beise.
“We have a product that does fatigue assessment but of course with this being a new area there is still a lot of R&D to be done to just add more functionality to improve the accuracy of an already very accurate measurement and to explore new avenues. In using this technology a bit differently we’ll be able to assess depression, for instance,” explains Krigolson.
Through the use of Aspire technology SUVA can directly measure the human brain, which is not done anywhere else. A number of other technologies on the market postulate that they have a beneﬁt to help with brain health and brain performance but none of them have a direct understanding of how technology is actually moving the needle on that.
“They can’t capture how your brain is functioning – but we can,” conﬁrms Beise. “We want to build technology that has a viable business model behind it but we also want to move the needle.”
Beise says people nowadays have reached a stage where they seem to be chronically exhausted, overtaxed and overburdened and they are often connected to some digital device that is allowing them to function at a lower level from their optimal level. He and the others at SUVA want to change the way people live and change the cultural capacities and strengths in the way people live their lives.
“Over the next few years we want to continue to add offerings on our brain health and performance platform to understand the different constructs that make us healthy cognitively,” he says.
Whether it is depression, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, neurological deﬁcits or any of the other integral aspects that make people who they are on a cognitive level, SUVA is looking to provide quantitative information in a deﬁned, comprehensive way that has never been done before.
“With respect to our depression stats we built that initially through collaboration with NASA, who are looking at the technology from the understanding of astronauts’ depression and the challenging environments they would ﬁnd as they travel to Mars,” says Beise.
In his role as the CSO, Krigolson is very enthusiastic about expanding on the research and see just how far they can push the bounds of success and invention.
“Part of the R&D that we’re getting excited about is the collaboration with the NASA HI-SEAS Project,” he says. “They are doing simulations of the Mars mission on the island of Hawaii and we’re going to use this technology to study the changes in brain function when astronauts are in isolation for three years, which is the time needed to go to Mars and back. We’re very excited about the opportunities ahead of us.”