Startup develops wearable for inducing lucid dreams

close up photography of woman sleeping

Imagine waking up in your dream, aware that you are dreaming yet able to control the narrative. This phenomenon, known as lucid dreaming, is experienced by approximately half of adults at least once in their lives. It’s a transformative and deeply meaningful experience, akin to an immersive virtual reality adventure. Now, a tech startup named Prophetic is aiming to make this experience more accessible by developing a wearable device designed to induce lucid dreams. Prophetic was co-founded by Eric Wollberg, the CEO, and Wesley Louis Berry III, the CTO.

Their goal is to harness technologies such as ultrasound and machine learning to detect when dreamers are in the REM stage of sleep and induce lucid dreams using a device called the Halo. Wollberg, a lucid dreamer since the age of 12, describes it as a surreal and spiritual-esque experience, likening it to the ultimate VR experience where one can fly, create buildings, and interact with dream characters. Berry, in the same conversation, pointed out the numerous benefits of lucid dreaming. It can help with PTSD, reduce anxiety, improve mood, confidence, motor skills, and creativity. However, Prophetic does not make any medical claims about its forthcoming product, the Halo, which is tentatively slated for a 2025 release.

Both Wollberg and Berry expressed optimism about the potential of lucid dreams to reduce PTSD-related nightmares, promote mindfulness, and open new windows into the mysterious nature of consciousness. To further explore these potential benefits, Prophetic has partnered with the Donders Institute, a research center at Radboud University in the Netherlands focused on neuroscience and cognition. The collaboration aims to generate the largest dataset of electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) observations of lucid dreamers. One of the key technologies behind Prophetic’s vision is transcranial focused ultrasound (TUS). This non-invasive technique uses low-intensity ultrasound pulses to probe the brain and interact with neural activity with unprecedented depth and precision.

Nico Adelhöfer, a researcher at Donders’s Sleep & Memory Lab who is working with Prophetic, supports the development of home-use lucid dreaming devices that implement potent technologies like transcranial ultrasound. However, the potential and limitations of Prophetic’s concept remain unclear. While ultrasound devices have been widely used in medicine for decades, the process of stimulating parts of the brain with TUS is a relatively new development. It’s still unknown whether TUS can induce or stabilize lucid dreams, but the Prophetic team is hopeful. Their wearable headband prototype, the Halo, can currently read EEG data of users. Over the next year, Prophetic aims to use the dataset from their partnership with the Donders Institute to train machine learning models that will stimulate targeted neural activity in users with ultrasound transducers, potentially inducing lucid dreams.

Adelhöfer, a longtime lucid dreamer himself, explained that ideally, the user would not notice the device at all, but would see effects only in slight changes in dream experiences that appear natural and non-artificial. Depending on the device specifics and steering range of its ultrasound transducers, it might also be possible to modulate the emotional tone of the dream, for example, reducing negative emotions by targeting the amygdala located deep within the brain. Wollberg and Berry are confident that their approach will work, based in part on the successful induction of lucid dreams by other methods. However, it remains to be seen whether future iterations of the Halo could use TUS to achieve a similar, and perhaps more powerful, outcome. The concept naturally evokes some of the most memorable pop culture stories about the manipulation of dreams, such as Inception and The Matrix.

The Prophetic team is aware of safety and privacy concerns that people might have about these emerging techniques and addresses them in their technology roadmap. Adelhöfer also noted that safety is a key issue for all kinds of research avenues into sleep and dream modulation. Prophetic hopes that the Halo could contribute to the quest to understand dreams and consciousness, assuming it is launched in the coming years. As an active lucid dreamer, Wollberg feels that this technology could help people harness their own dreams in ways that could enrich their lives even after they wake up.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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