This New MIT ‘Dormio’ Robot Can Control Your Dreams

Technology might be reaching an entirely new level. A team at MIT, led by Adam Horowitz, is building a machine that lets people interface with their sleep. In other words, you can manipulate your sleep state and potentially control your dreams.

Let’s back up a second. There’s a sleep stage not talked about often in the sleep industry world. That’s the semi-lucid hypnagogia stage of sleep, where hallucinations are said to occur, and creativity is at its peak. It’s sort of the blurry stage between being awake and falling into deep sleep, and people rarely remember any “micro-dreams” that occur during this stage.

That’s what this machine, called Dormio, is working to manipulate.

How does it work, exactly?

The Dormio system includes a hand-worn device that looks sort of like a glove. The person puts it on, and the machine goes to work, tracking certain biosignals — like heart rate and muscle relaxation — to indicate when the wearer enters the hypnagogia stage, and when it’s about to leave. This second part is key; once the wearer is about to transition into deep sleep, Dormio is programmed to emit a pre-programmed phrase, like the word “rabbit” or “fork,” to push them back into the hypnagogia stage. The coolest part? Subjects are actually remembering dreams that included these words, rabbit or fork.

Also check out: A Guide to Dream Interpretation

As of right now, Horowitz has tested the device on eight subjects and discovered it can increase the amount of time wearers stay in the hypnagogia stage, the place between wakefulness and sleep. Perhaps even cooler is the machine helps shape what people actually dream about (can we get Dormio to say “cupcakes” and “tequila”?) and might lead to more positive manipulations of this creative dream state.

As Horowitz himself says:

“The ends of this project are both practical and philosophical. I have no doubt that Hypnagogia holds applications for augmenting memory, learning, and creativity. Yet also, after exploring the state myself, I find it to be a deeply valuable and inspiring sort of self-seeing which was inaccessible to me previously.”

The device is far from perfect. The team is still testing other iterations and ways to make the machine less invasive and expensive, including experimenting with the types of sensors used, and trying to track biosignals by monitoring eyelid movement instead of having people wear a bulky, metal glove.

While you’re here, read this Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Sleep Mask Review

Plus, there are still many scientific controversies around what exactly the hypnagogia stage of sleep is, and how to determine when people are actually asleep. And remember, this gadget has only been tested on eight people, and it’s unclear what the demographics of this population is.

Some might think controlling your dreams is cool, and others might think it’s creepy. Either way, what’s interesting is more and more people are using technology to better understand how we sleep, and how we can enhance the experience.

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Laura Schwecherl

Laura is a journalist with nearly a decade of experience reporting and covering topics in the health, fitness, and wellness space. She is also a marketing consultant, where she works with impact-oriented startups to build marketing and editorial strategies. Outside of work, you can find her reading Murakami novels, writing amateur poetry, or trail running in her hometown, Boulder, Colorado.

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