Innovation of the Week: Channel surfing could be brain-operated | Crain's San Francisco

Innovation of the Week: Channel surfing could be brain-operated

  • The MindFlix is an experiment from NetFlix’s product development team. | Photo by Chris Brown Flickr

    The MindFlix is an experiment from NetFlix’s product development team. | Photo by Chris Brown Flickr

  • The MindFlix remote employs InteraXon’s headband to free TV viewers from the toil and drudgery of pressing buttons on their remote controls. | Photo by InteraXon Flickr

    The MindFlix remote employs InteraXon’s headband to free TV viewers from the toil and drudgery of pressing buttons on their remote controls. | Photo by InteraXon Flickr

Remote controls have always been the technology of the lazy, first freeing viewers from the burden of moving their bodies to change the TV channel.

The latest innovation in the market could be called the technology of the super-lazy, eliminating even the need to pick up a remote control at all.

Behold the MindFlix, an experiment from NetFlix’s product development team that allows viewers to operate the company’s video-on-demand service using nothing but their thoughts.

MindFlix arose from Netflix’s Hack Day held in January, an event where company staff can let their imaginations run wild and try out creative ideas that may never evolve into actual commercial products. 

The system employs the InteraXon Muse headband, which can measure brain signals. Although the Muse was originally designed as a meditation aid, NetFlix adapted the device to accept commands. Users can turn their head to scroll through menus or think "play" to start a program.

As of now, there's no indication that Netflix actually plans to sell the MindFlix to consumers, although such innovations sometimes have a way of evolving into real products.

Remotes evolving

While you may never be able to buy a MindFlix, the concept does reflect the ongoing progression of the TV remote control into a more powerful and easier-to-use product.

“If you look at companies like Roku, they are offering a very simplified version of what the remote looks like to make the user experience easier." said Veronica Thayer, senior analyst at IHS Markit. "A lot of companies are adding voice control to let consumers watch what they want to without having to type in information letter-by-letter.”

Use your head

So what’s the outlook for an actual MindFlix product?

“In the near term, I’m guessing that there will be a lot of limitations to adoption, with users resisting having to put on a headset,” Thayer observed. “In the past, we’ve seen a few television manufacturers like Samsung looking into adding gesture control. This didn’t work out too well. People were having trouble controlling their TVs with hand gestures. People prefer to use the newer remotes. They can use voice control and not have to type in letters, I think that’s really where voice control helps.”

February 1, 2017 - 9:36pm