Wearing headphones that zaps your brain, giving you jacked-up physical powers sounds like something from a 90’s cartoon show. However, Dr. Daniel Chao, co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience, has developed a device that professional athletes are using to gain a unique and potentially revolutionary competitive edge.
“Humans have come to a point in time where we are close to reaching our ceiling, by working on improving our body from the neck-down,” says Dr. Chao. “However, if we focus on improving our abilities from the neck above, we will be able to reach new heights in athletic abilities.”
From the outside, Halo Sport looks a regular pair of over-the-ear headphones that plays music. In addition to playing tunes, the headset delivers tiny electrical pulses to the brain that’s supposed to increase the ability of neurons to build new connections and bolster the brain’s ability to adapt to physically exhaustive training.
I’ve been playing in the NFL for five seasons and you understand where your body is at each point of the season. This is the best I’ve felt at Week 10.”
“There are small tingling sensations you feel where the fibers are on your head but you really don’t notice up there,” says Cleveland Browns linebacker Demario Davis.
Davis is one of the technology’s early adopters and he credits the device with improving his performance on the field and in the weight room. Athletes like Davis are instructed to wear the device while working out, practicing, or warming-up before a game as a small electric current is turned on, delivering about 1.5 to 2 milliamps to the brain. That sends it into a state of hyperplasticity—or rapid building or enlarging—and accelerating the strength and skill acquisition of athletes, making the brain more adaptable to learning.
“There is an increased focus when I'm playing, I don't know how to explain it but it’s just there,” says Davis.
According to Dr. Chao, that process is called neuropriming and when an athlete performs an exercise in this state, the brain builds connections between the motor cortex and the muscles involved in that exercise. Better connections improves control and the ability to recruit more muscle fibers at the same time, extracting more of the raw strength from a muscle.
“During the season we lift about two days a week,” says Davis. “During this time of the year, you start to get fatigued” but since he started to use Halo he “noticed that my numbers are steadily climbing and I've become more explosive.”
Davis signed a 2-year, $8 million contract with the Browns this past off-season and in 10 games has 72 tackles and a sack. In Week 9 against the Cowboys, he had 10 tackles and forced fumble. Davis recorded a team-high 77.6 grade, according to Pro Football Focus, against the Cowboys.
“I feel like there is an extra bit of explosion with my game and I’ve become stronger as well,” he says. “I’ve been playing in the NFL for five seasons and you understand where your body is at each point of the season. This is the best I’ve felt at Week 10.”
The device works by using a method called tDCS, or transcranial direct-current stimulation. It strategically places electrodes along the band of the headphones and the device is able to deliver an electric current to the wearer’s motor cortex, which controls the movement and coordination of the body.
After earning an MS in neuroscience and a medical degree from Stanford, Chao created Neuropace, a brain pacemaker for epileptics. Using the RNS (Responsive Neurostimulation) system, the machine constantly monitors your brainwaves, looking for unusual activity that may lead to seizures. When the device detects unusual activity, within milliseconds, light electrical wave pulses are sent to the brain to prevent epileptic seizures. This device has helped reduce seizures by upward of 50 percent.
However, one problem Chao faced was that the device needed to be implanted, requiring patients to undergo up to three hours of surgery in order to install the device. This led Chao to look for a less invasive solution and the eventual development of Halo Neuroscience.
Now, the company has made the device available to the general public—weekend warriors and aspiring professional athletes alike —to reap the rewards of electric currents sweeping across their brains while working out.
“As humans we have a limited shelf life on our body, so this will be the first step to how we can reach the maximum output on our body,” says Chao.