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Wear our strange headband and save lives, say inventors

Technically Incorrect: The U-Wake's creators say it prevents drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. A slight problem is that you have to wear it on your forehead when you drive.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Are you prepared to look slightly silly to stay awake at the wheel? U-Wake screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

What are we prepared to sacrifice in order to be a "good" person?

How many precautions are we happy to take to feel safe?

Isn't life just one big mess and all we can do is ride the jerky roller coaster for as long as we can?

Such existential questions abound in our deeply neurotic world, and they are questions being asked by the inventors of a new product called U-Wake.

Spiritually, this interesting gadget claims to be "your guardian angel for road safety." Physically, it resembles a posh schoolgirl's headband.

U-Wake, you see, is designed to sense your brain waves, using electroencephalography (EEG). It then alerts you, should you begin to fall asleep at the wheel.

I asked the man behind the project, Sam Wu, the obvious question: Do you realize how weird people look in your headband?

He replied: "Yes. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has a cruel way of ensuring that some technologies that will help us will also make us look weird, by letting us evolve in such a way that the area of the brain that is in charge of detecting fatigue is right in the middle of your forehead."

But people are vain, venal and lazy. Can he really imagine that someone would pick up a lover for a date and be wearing.... Sam, it's a headband that's slipped onto your forehead.

Wu told me: "We've tried several designs to make U-Wake less awkward. We tried incorporating the sensor with helmets, or trying to make it look like earphones -- gigantic ones in fact. But sadly, it looks like the price to pay for ensuring road safety is your chance of becoming a fashion icon."

Like the one nice judge on "Project Runway," he then offered me the observation that because U-Wake is black "it should match your accessories."

Sam, it's a headband that's slipped onto your forehead. We're talking dating here, a very delicate event.

Wu insisted: "We encourage people to go on dates with men/women who don't judge a book by its cover or by the slightly awkward-looking wearable technology that will ensure road safety. In fact, I would consider my date pretty attractive by the way they take responsibility for ensuring that they stay alert on the road."

We have established, then, that Wu prefers to date someone who won't break the speed limit and always stops at stop signs. Yes, of course he studied chemistry.

Still, it might cross some minds to add that if you're going on a date, make sure you've had plenty of shut-eye, so that you're not likely to nod off. Moreover, try not to date someone who's going to put you to sleep -- though that, as acidic experience has taught most people, isn't always easy.

I tried to get past the idea of a headband that's slipped onto my forehead and asked how effective U-Wake truly is. Wu claimed it has a 90 percent success rate. When the technology senses that you are beginning to fall asleep, it makes the app that you have on your phone vibrate and then sound an alarm.

If the machine continues to detect sleepiness, it sends an alert to your friends, whose numbers you have preprogrammed into the app. U-Wake is currently trying to raise funds on Kickstarter.

Wu believes his team's invention is the first to alert drivers before they fall asleep, rather than after they have done so. He thinks taxi drivers and those who have to drive commercially for a long time -- truck drivers, for example -- would get the most benefit from this device.

The fundamental question remains: how far are people prepared to go for road safety?

And how far are they prepared to compromise their look, even in a world in which we're all supposed to be wearing our gadgets on our sleeves -- and just about everywhere else?