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Dream machine lets you choose your own adventure

Charlotte Edwards, August 3, 2020 6:45PM The Sun

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A sleeper wearing the Dormio and lying next to a robot that makes suggestions about dream topics and records sleeptalking. Picture: Oscar Rosello media_cameraA sleeper wearing the Dormio and lying next to a robot that makes suggestions about dream topics and records sleeptalking. Picture: Oscar Rosello


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An invention that could let you choose your dreams is being developed by scientists.

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US has made an experimental device that aims to trigger specific dream themes and experiences while the wearer is asleep.

This may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie but the research shows dream control could one day be possible.

The study was led by neuroscientist* Adam Haar Horowitz from MIT.

The Dormio helps suggest dream topics media_cameraThe device, called Dormio, on the hand of a study participant.

It demonstrated how a wearable hand device called Dormio allows what the researchers term targeted dream incubation (TDI).

They think TDI is possible during the transition stage of sleep between being awake and asleep — this stage is called hypnagogia — where we can still hear and process audio.

Users must sleep next to a Jibo social robot, which initiates* conversations.

It records anything the sleeper says because people can forget their dreams, which scientists call hypnagogic amnesia.

MIT Media Lab explained: “The aim is to influence and extend a transitional state of sleep.

“To do so, we must track this transitional state (hypnagogia) and interrupt when it is ending.

“So, a user wears a device which collects biosignals that track transitions in sleep stages.

“In our new device, those signals come from the hand, where we can gather data on loss of muscle tone, heart rate changes, and changes in skin conductance*.

“When those biosignals appear to signal the end of a transitional state, audio from the social robot is triggered, and that person is knocked just a little bit back into wakefulness, but not into full wakefulness.”

The researchers used words such as “fork” or “rabbits” to slightly wake up the person.

“We have found that in the subjects we tested, those words reliably entered the hypnagogic dreams as dream content.”

Two adorable rabbits isolated on a whte background. Rabbit. Bunnies. Bunny. Generic image. media_cameraResearchers used words such as rabbits or fork to slightly wake the person and then those topics became dream content.

The system then lets a user go back to sleep until their biosignals show they’re falling into a deeper state.

It then makes them partially awake again and this cycle repeats so dreams can be intercepted* and reports taken.

The researchers said in their paper: “The aim of the current study is to assess the ability of Dormio to identify the sleep onset period and successfully manipulate* the content of hypnagogic dream report through pre-sleep verbal prompts.”

The device is still only a prototype* but so far results suggest it can successfully influence dreams.

When study participants were told to dream of a tree, 67 per cent reported seeing one in their dream.

“My dream did involve a tree,” one participant said, “I was following the roots with someone and the roots were transporting me to different locations … I could hear the roots of the tree pulsating with energy as if they were leading me to some location.”

Supplied Editorial iStock autumn media_cameraWhen study participants were told to dream of a tree, 67 per cent did so. Picture: iStock

The researchers think their device could be used for learning in your sleep or encouraging creative thoughts.

Mr Haar Horowitz said “Dreaming about a specific theme seems to offer benefits post-sleep, such as on creativity tasks related to this theme.

“This is unsurprising in light of historical figures like Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) or Salvador Dalí (a surrealist* artist), who were inspired creatively by their dreams.

“The difference here is that we induce these creatively beneficial dreams on purpose, in a targeted manner.”

The study has been published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

This story was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.

baby toddler asleep with teddy bear media_cameraWhat would you choose to dream about if you could try this invention?


  • neuroscientist: doctor who studies the brain and nervous system
  • initiates: starts
  • conductance: how well something conducts electrical signals
  • intercepted: stoppedor the course of something changed while it is happening
  • manipulate: control or change
  • prototype: first model to test
  • surrealist: style of art for which the ideas are said to come from the unconscious mind


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  1. On which body part do you wear a Dormio?
  2. Which signals indicate someone is falling asleep?
  3. What proportion of people dreamt of a tree after it was suggested?
  4. What could be a benefit of this device?
  5. Who was Mary Shelley?


1. Draw a diagram
Use the information in the article to draw a labelled diagram and/or a flow chart showing how this technology will work.

Remember to include the Dormio and Jibo and what they do and when they are triggered to work.

Can you think of when this technology could be beneficial?

Can you think of any ways this technology could be used unethically?

What guidelines would you include with this device to ensure it cannot be used inappropriately?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Ethical Capability

2. Extension
Do you have a favourite dream?

Do you have a dream that reoccurs and one that you like having? Do your best to explain your dream (though sometimes they are hard to explain because they don’t always make sense). You might also be able to draw a scene from your dream. Explain why you like having this dream.

If you don’t have a favourite dream, what would you like to dream about? What dream would make you feel good and put you in a good mood for the day? Explain your ideal dream and why dreaming this would make you feel good.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you choose to dream? Do you have any concerns about this device?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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