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Sound Thinking

Anh-Minh Le | February 16, 2017 | Story Tech World

World-record powerlifter Emily Hu trains for two hours, five to six days a week. Early on in every training session, while she warms up and stretches, she dons a pair of headphones for about 20 minutes. But these are no ordinary headphones, and they do more than simply let you listen to music. Hu is among the growing number of athletes whose training regimen, in an effort to improve performance, incorporates the Halo Sport. Halo’s proprietary electrode mechanism, called the primer, snaps into the underside of the headband. The primer’s soft foam spikes are positioned right over the motor cortex, emitting electric currents that stimulate the wearer’s brain. “It works by tapping into a natural process in our brain—neuroplasticity, or our brain’s innate ability to adapt to training and practice,” explains Daniel Chao, the Stanford-trained M.D. who co-founded Halo Neuroscience in 2013. “Neuroplasticity is how we learn—from foreign languages to math, directions to the nearest cafe and, for an athlete, physical movement and strength.” Neuropriming is the term Halo uses to describe what it does: It delivers neurostimulation to prime the brain for, say, an athletic training session.

Prior to designing its first product, Halo conducted initial tests on more than 1,000 subjects. “If someone combined neurostimulation with movement-based training, they would acquire skill and strength at an accelerated rate,” says Chao. “Only then did we start thinking about applications.” The first was sports. The headset is worn for 20 minutes before, not during, a workout; then you start your reps. The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association trained with Halo Sport and reported a 13 percent improvement in propulsion force and 11 percent increase in jump smoothness over a control group. Hu started wearing the device last June and credits it with helping to reach her goal of a 300-pound squat. Chao, an avid cyclist, has his own anecdote: It wasn’t until a few weeks after implementing a training strategy of neuropriming sessions along with sprint intervals that he was able to achieve a sub-8-minute climb of Marin County’s Hawk Hill.

The headphones are now available for purchase ($749), and Chao views athletics as just the beginning for the wearable technology. In fact, according to Chao, the firm’s largest customer right now is the U.S. military, whose special operations forces utilize Halo Sport in their training programs. “We’ve been approached by everything from medical universities inquiring about neuropriming with surgical training to musicians looking to improve the technical aspects of their craft to artists looking to move a brush over canvas with more skill,” says the CEO.

Originally published in the January issue of Silicon Valley

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