- A team of scientists at MIT is building devices meant to monitor people’s sleep and influence their dreams.
- One device, called Dormio, is an “interactive social robot” designed to detect when the user is falling asleep and affect their dreams with audio cues.
- The purpose of the device is to encourage a semi-lucid dream state that could help with memory strengthening or creative inspiration.
- The device is still in development, but has been tested on over 50 people.
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A century ago, artists and eccentrics ranging from Salvador Dalí to Thomas Edison tried to tap into their dreams for inspiration with the help of a steel ball.
The method went something like this: A person takes a nap while grasping a metal ball. Upon falling asleep, they release the ball and the noise of it hitting the floor jolts them into a semi-lucid dream state that they can mine for creative ideas.
A group of scientists at MIT has attempted to update the “steel ball technique” for the 21st century, using an open-source biometric device that detects when a user is falling asleep and influences their dreams.
The goal of the device, nicknamed Dormio, is to encourage “hypnagogic microdreams” that occur in the semi-lucid state right after a subject has fallen asleep. The MIT team believes it could serve therapeutic purposes, or be used to help strengthen people’s memory.
“Dreaming is really just thinking at night,” Adam Horowitz, a PhD student at MIT and a Dream Lab researcher, told OneZero. “When you go inside, you come out different in the morning. But we have not been asking questions about the experience of that transformation of information or the thoughts that guide it.”
The device is still in development, but has already been tested on more than 50 people.
Here’s a breakdown of how Dormio works.
Dormio users wear a “hand worn sleep-stage tracking system” that keeps tabs on their heart rate, movement, and muscle tone to monitor their sleep stage as they drift off.
When Dormio detects that users are falling asleep, it plays a prerecorded audio cue that can be set in advance and records what they say in response.
The purpose is to harness people’s “hypnagogia, a semi-lucid sleep state where we all begin dreaming before we fall fully unconscious,” according to the researchers.
“Hypnagogia is characterized by phenomenological unpredictability, distorted perception of space and time, loss of sense of self, and spontaneous, fluid idea association,” the researchers write.
The team at MIT says they want Dormio to be used to conduct more research into sleep and its relationship to memory, learning, and creativity.
Read more about Dormio and the MIT team behind it here.