Every once in a while, imagination and technology come together to make science fiction a reality. Shoe-phones, 3D graphics, invisibility cloaks, and now — brainwave-controlled animatronic cat ears. Called Nekomimi (“Cat ears” in Japanese), you may have seen them around anime conventions of late, and with Halloween coming up, they’re the perfect gift (especially for all you in Catwoman suits). I had no idea humanity had this technology, and now it’s already on my doorstep, available for home use. At Otakon in August, I was able to sit down with Andrew, the owner of a Nekomimi major distributor Foam Brain Games, to get the low-down on this wondrous new tech.
Nekomimi are a headset that uses a small ear clip EEG to read your Beta and Gamma brainwaves. Those waves are then interpreted to move the ears, which are situated on a headband. The ears can move forward, backward, pivot, and twitch. According to users I spoke with at the con, they are programmed well: if you’re interested in something, the ears pivot back like a real cat’s would; if you’re sad, they droop; and in rare cases of extreme excitement, they spin. (I have yet to see this magical state, but it sounds awesome).
Physically, the headset is visibly appealing, and quite similar to the garden-variety, non-moveable cat ear sets found at any Halloween shop. For now, the ears come in white only, but four companies make custom slip covers. Each one specializes in something different: Pawstar makes different animal patterns, Emoki does cute stuff, Animehot features a Star Trek and TV geekery line, and Foam Brain Games itself makes My Little Pony and video game-related ear pieces. (Yes, you heard me: My little Pony! Rejoice!) This tech is definitely being outfitted for all your cosplay needs, so no more long nights tinkering in the garage.
Right now I’m seeing the most of them through catboy and catgirl cosplay (it may in fact be inspiring a resurgence, but one that is 10x cooler than the original because of brainwave controlled ears). You don’t have to be into cat cosplay to buy them, however; they’re so cool you just want one for yourself. But, the coolest use Andrew cited? He mentioned phone-based tech-support crews wearing them, so that overseers can easily distinguish their moods. In short, they’re Cat Ears 2.0, they’re really cool, and they’d totally be a tell at poker. The future is now.
Believe it or not, the technology came out of an idea in a 2011 YouTube gag video. It became so viral that NuroSky and NuroWear worked together to make it happen. Both companies have offices in Japan and California, and a slew of patents on the tech between the two. NuroSky isn’t new to geekery; they’re the company behind the Nutell Mindwave-run Jedi game.
The ears themselves are shaped a bit like Chobits ears, which to me was the next logical place to take the tech. I also asked Andrew about mechanical tails to match the ears. It seems, however, that a good animal tail shall remain elusive to users for now: a Kickstarter and Indie Gogo both flopped. As well, he said, the technology is more problematic. Just a few of the issues include a less-protected area farther away from the head, and a long, fragile apparatus near a high traffic area (ie, where you sit). But maybe someday, Cheetara cosplayers. Someday soon.
Nekomimi are available through about twenty distributors, but Foam Brain Games specializes in sales of the tech and is committed to being the best in customer service, Andrew said. To prove the point, most of his booth workers were wearing them, including him, which made for a delightful interview on the con floor. FBG is a US company, and will be at New York Comic Con next week to promote its wears just in time for Halloween. So, whether you’re a cosplayer or a mild-mannered reporter, definitely check out this awesome new tech, and Foam Brain Games while you’re at it.