Human Centered Technology

BY LAURA BARONCHELLI

Within the wild rush to technological development at any cost, almost so blind as to lose sight of the direction to the authentic benefit for humanity, there are realities that move in counter-trend and mould themselves on the fundamentals of true human wellness, developing, thanks to a slow-philosopy, a path of global evolution but also of successful business. We had a talk with Sabrina Sauer from brainLight GmbH, a German company which produces technologically advanced integrated systems for relaxation, in order to unveil a reality that is conquering huge venues of the global market and also of broad consensus.

Such an enlightened vision, one would say… but with eyes wide closed! Let’s discover together why.

 

The company’s mission

“The company sees its systems as part of a worldwide trend towards deceleration and greater solidarity, a return to essentials, to simplicity, to the roots.” (from the Corporate Mission)

Question: The corporate mission behind the brainLight project is truly uncommon and daring, in an overall view of the technology trend that rarely considers the human factor genuinely as a priority. What is the story behind this enlightened vision?

Answer: I believe brainLight’s corporate mission and vision can be understood when knowing who founded the company, how it came into being and what framework the business was set up in. The founders of brainLight, Ursula Sauer and Jochen Hufgard, had both been practicing meditation for years, were curious about the potential of altered states of consciousness, and felt personally committed to their own spiritual paths, when they read about a huge trend in the USA around so called mind machines in a magazine: light and sound devices that promised “enlightenment at the touch of a button”.

This was in 1988. Jochen Hufgard, who at the time was a Yoga teacher and also ran a small computer company — before computers became affordable everyday objects — was excited about the integration of meditation and technology: These mind machines seemed to marry two fields he was particularly interested in. Curiosity made Jochen Hufgard head to the USA together with his partner Ursula Sauer, where they travelled through the country testing various models of these machines. They were truly fascinated by the experiences they had, feeling that they had indeed encountered a tool that made meditation and relaxation “at the touch of a button” possible. This, they found, revolutionized how meditation and relaxation could be approached and felt that the ease of use and the technological mantle made these topics also accessible to people who would normally shun away from them. They brought five “mind machines” back to Germany and decided to found a company in order to distribute these in Europe — brainLight was born and its manifesto (the company’s “philosophy”) written.

The human factor is key

I think the fact that this company was not created out of a desire to run a business is key to brainLight’s vision. Instead, Ursula Sauer und Jochen Hufgard stumbled across devices that struck a chord with their passions and their personal vision of a world, in which everyone could live their full potential by easily tapping into the necessary state of consciousness, with relaxation being the basis of most states. When brainLight was set up as a company, the first employees were friends and later family members (delete: of Ursula’s and Jochen’s). Almost thirty years later, brainLight has a lot more staff, but family and friends still build the foundation. This is another reason why the human factor is very prevalent in the company’s agenda.

Question: Your offer is focused mainly on two typologies of product: a massage system and a stimulation light device, both integrated with sound programs, which can be used as single units or combined in a complete coordinated system. How do they work and in particular how does the Synchro affect the mind?

Answer: You are correct: In our product range, we offer a system for the mind, the brainLight-Synchro and a system for the body, the brainLight Massage Chairs, as well as the fully automated combination of the two systems.

The brainLight-Synchro is the state-of-the art successor of the early mind machines that Ursula Sauer and Jochen Hufgard imported from the USA and which we have manufactured and further developed ourselves since 2007. It is still our core product. It consists of a little computer that emits light and sound frequencies via LED glasses called visualization glasses and via headphones. Depending on the program, music and narration is also contained. The light and sound frequencies as well as the additional audio are stored on SD cards, which can be inserted into the Synchro.

When brainLight started out, users would experience the light and sound device while lying on an air mattress or sitting in a comfortable chair. In the 1990s, we started offering massage chairs as well, which were not yet synced to the Synchro. We learnt that people were instantly much more up for trying the brainLight system when it included a massage as this was something they knew and they knew they liked. Thus, our product range was enhanced and in 2007, we created the first fully integrated and fully automated combination of massage chair and Synchro: “Relaxation at the touch of a button” now meant relaxation for mind and body.

The innovative solution

While the concept of a massage chair is self-explanatory — it is a chair that massages the user, although there are huge differences in quality and effectiveness of massage chairs and we strive to offer the best available — how the Synchro works needs more explanation: It is scientifically proven that the human brain is affected by sustained sonic or visual stimuli. It adjusts its electrical wave patterns to the frequencies it is repeatedly subjected to. This mechanism has been made use of by humans for centuries, for example when inducing trance via rhythmic music and/or flickering fire or candle light.

The technology of the brainLight-Synchro makes it possible to be very precise in its visual and sonic stimuli by omitting specific frequencies. A frequency of 10 Hz for example, is created by the glasses and headphones omitting 10 optical and acoustic signals per second.The brain can thus be entrained to reach the gamma, beta, alpha, theta, or delta brain wave range, each of which is typical of specific mental states. Alpha, for example, is associated with relaxation and is ideal for being creative and learning new information; theta is associated with deep meditation. In addition to these more general associations with brain wave ranges, there are specific frequencies within these that are used, such as the already mentioned 10 Hz, which is experienced as pain-relieving by many people. Besides the induction of the above-mentioned states, the linking of the brain hemispheres is enhanced via the light and sound stimuli.

While the sonic stimuli are placed on the hearing threshold and can only be noticed when focusing on them, the visual signals omitted via the LED glasses create colors and patterns behind the user’s closed eyes. What users see is a very individual experience: even if two people choose the same program and keep the same light intensity (delete: the intensity can be adjusted to the user’s wishes…people’s sensitivity to light differs and it should be pleasant), they describe different visual experiences afterwards.

The potentiality of light

Question: Recently, many discussions have been brought about the still uncovered potentiality of light, which is another enthusiastic path that satisfies the genetical exploring attitude of humanity. Still, many are concerned about the manipulation of such a delicate matter as light, and the outcomes of an incorrect use of it, at this point of knowledge. What kind of scientific research and experimentation has been carried out to end up with a device like Synchro?

Answer: The first experiments in this field can be traced back to Greek natural scientist Ptolemy, who placed a spinning wheel between an observer’s eyes and the sun. The light that reached the eyes through the spokes of the wheel made observers see colors and patterns as well as experience feelings of euphoria and daze. In the 20th century, various experiments and studies have been conducted. During World War II for example, radar engineer Sidney Schneider was intrigued by the effects that the rhythmical flashes on the radar screens had on his staff who would look at them repeatedly. He developed the first medical system for connecting brain hemispheres called “Brainwave Synchronizer”, which is still used in hypnosis therapy today. During the 1940s, several scientists such as British neuroscientist Gray Walter studied the effect that flickering light has on brain waves by using a stroboscope and EEG. During the 1960s and 1970s, the linking of the brain hemispheres and the enhancement of cognitive skills via light and sound stimuli was repeatedly proven. The revolution in microelectronics in the 1980s then made it possible to manufacture small machines that could produce and store complex light and sound sequences – these were the mind machines that brainLight first imported.

The list of studies into the various areas of application of the light and sound devices is long and our products are regularly the subject of new research. There is a lot of related information on our website.

With regards to the worry of potential manipulation through light or our systems in general: We only employ frequencies up to 40 Hz, which are abundantly investigated and are also ordinarily produced by our brains. In contrast to the influence we are objected to permanently by the screens we watch and work on, by WiFi or radio, the brainLight-Synchro gives us the opportunity to choose the direction in which we would like to stimulate our brains.

Towards a wellness industry

Question: We are witnessing a worldwide huge increment of initiatives related to wellness and the return to a spiritual dimension of life, and though the so called “wellness industry” is reaching impressive numbers, a few legitimate suspects arise about its coherence with the authentic well-being. As we can understand, brainLight is not merely a technological offer but more deeply a challenge for the human evolution springing out from a holistic vision. In what measure do you think you are fulfilling this ambitious goal and, in this sense, what is the response of the audience that approaches your products?

Answer: The evolution of human consciousness and “wellbeing for everyone” as our vision and wish for this world is admittedly very ambitious. There are many effective methods and ways that are known to enhance consciousness and wellbeing and we see our products as one such tool. The brainLight-Systems are one possibility that can help individuals to a more relaxed and loving way of being and there are contexts in this world, where our technology, or technology all together, would be out of place. In the cultural context where brainLight was established, however, where technology and stress are characteristic of the place and time we live in, our products offering “relaxation and wellbeing at the touch of a button” seem very suitable and invite a vast array of people to this experience.

Since brainLight was founded in 1988 the zeitgeist has shifted and with it the ways that our products are seen and used. In the beginning, our customers mainly came from New Age circles and were already familiar with meditation practices and were informed about altered states of consciousness. Those who were not, were skeptical about the Synchro, despite the scientific studies that backed up their effectiveness. In the decades that followed, preventative health measures came more and more into public consciousness in Germany, supported by the media and later the government, and various relaxation methods became known and practiced widely. Meditation lost its stigma and concepts for corporate health management in businesses were developed that proclaimed three pillars of health: nutrition, movement, and relaxation. As part of the latter pillar, the brainLight-Systems have found a home in many well-known companies, where employees enjoy a brainLight light, sound, and massage experience to refuel their energy levels throughout the work day.

 

An enlighted vision

Question: brainLight has won several prestigious awards – to name one, the PLUS X AWARD for the fourth year in a row – which confirms the efficiency of the products besides a successful company strategy. You can also boast some excellent cooperations with companies such as JAGUAR, APPLE, VOLKSWAGEN and many others. What is the next step in the evolution of brainLight?

Answer: With regards to the evolution of our products, we are working on making the light, sound and massage experience even more user-friendly and more individualized. Our latest massage chair, the Zenesse, can already be controlled via an app on your own iOS device and we want to extend this possibility also to the Synchro and the combination of Synchro and massage chair. Part of this will open up possibilities regarding the programs offered: users will be able to download programs instead of having them on an SD card and our aim is that they can create their own programs by combining the type of massage, the music, and the light and sound frequencies of their choice. This individualization is also mirrored by the advancement in massage chair technology: 10 years ago, these chairs would massage a user’s acupressure points based on a standardised grid; the Zenesse massage chair is now able to measure the user’s back length, width and even the individual contours such as shoulder blades, which means that more and more, it is not just a body that is being massaged, but your body.

In terms of our services, our focus for expansion is brainLight’s place in corporate health management. This does not only mean offering our products to fulfil the need of employee relaxation, but also supporting health managers in implementing successful health strategies. We have created the myBGM initiative for this purpose, which received the “Industriepreis 2016”, a German award for unique and progressive industry services and solutions

Besides expanding our products and services, the culture within our company, which includes our own corporate health management as well as our social and environmental responsibility, will stay our priority.

All we can do now is just relax and wait for the next enlightened vision.

 

Article by Patrizia De Masi, Architect Lighting Designer – President AILD