With a jolt, Thync’s mood-enhancing gadget brings calm or focus to your brain

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It’s an idea that might take a few minutes to wrap your head around.

Thync, a company with roots in Boston, is building a new kind of wearable device that lets you hack your mood with the flip of a switch. The triangular gadget is slightly smaller than a computer mouse and sticks to your head like an oversized Band-Aid. Controlled by an app, it delivers a precisely tuned, low dose of current to your brain.

The overall experience, Thync’s founders say, can be one of either calm or alertness. They’re betting that they can convince an always-wired generation that often relies on caffeine or alcohol to moderate their moods to fall hard for a device that can in turns mimic the burst of productivity offered by an espresso, or the feeling of carefree and ease that accompanies an ice-cold cocktail by the pool.

Thync, which has offices in the 14th floor of the Prudential Center and in Los Gatos, Calif., is debuting the device to the public Tuesday, which is also when it can first be purchased for  $299 from the company’s website.

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The Thync module attaches to a user’s temple and is able to produce mood and energy altering feelings, dialed in by the user on a smartphone application. (Photo: Lane Turner/ Globe Staff)

A wearer can control the Thync “Module” using a smartphone app. The device itself comes with six preprogrammed mental routines that the company calls “vibes.” Three of those have a calming effect and take 5, 10, or 15 minutes to experience, and the rest are meant to leave you feeling energized.

If the device sounds like something out of science fiction, that’s the point. “There’s no equivalent out there,” said Sumon Pal, Thync’s “chief of vibes.” As a result, the company has plans to host video and text chats with customers looking for guidance on how to use it.

“We want to be close to the first customers,” Isy Goldwasser, chief executive officer and co-founder of Thync said. “There could be issues with engineering or (user experience) — we just want to be able to find that early.”

Sumon Pal, whose title is "Chief of Vibes", holds a smartphone displaying the app.
Sumon Pal, whose title is “Chief of Vibes,” holds a smartphone displaying the app. (Photo: Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

The experience takes a bit of getting used to. For one, it takes practice to glue the plastic triangular device to your temple snugly. Then, an attached piece of plastic with a printed circuit connected to it must snake behind your ear or to the nape of your neck — another point of stimulation for the current. If you get all that right, the effects can be worth it: Five minutes on the “Ease” vibe will take the edge off a stressful meeting, or soothe the nerves before going on stage for a talk.

The early origins of Thync’s devices were developed by Pal and William “Jamie” Tyler, Thync’s chief scientific officer, when the two were research scientists (they met as postdoctoral researchers at Harvard University). Tyler continued research on the mechanism as a professor at Arizona State University. With Goldwasser, they launched Thync in 2011.

Thync execs Sumon Pal and William “Jamie” Tyler. Thync execs Sumon Pal and William “Jamie” Tyler. (Photo: Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

A few thousand alpha testers have taken the device for a spin, along with several reporters. The data indicates that it consistently works, but the company is still figuring out why and how it does. After crunching through their data, Tyler and team presented a hypothesis for the mechanism earlier this year.

In a paper submitted a paper for peer review, they proposed that the devices’ electrical current hitches a ride on touch-sensitive cranial nerves on the face, and reach a deep-set part of the brain that serves as a switchboard for the body’s fight-or-flight response. Modulate the current one way and you can prime the body to be alert, active, and focused. Change the tune, and the effect is like the aftermath of a soothing head massage. So far, the authors say they haven’t seen any side effects of the treatment — the founders have been wearing the device almost daily for more than a year. Nor does it seem to be addictive.

The company is going after recreational users at the outset, and in doing so has swerved clear of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. But Tyler hopes that the research will one day have medical applications as well.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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