US brainwave tech firm to set up (coffee) shop in Belfast

Emotiv secure approval for café and apartment for specialists in listed building close to Queen’s University

A picture taken from the street of a listed building, with a second image inset, showing a man from behind wearing a headset.
The listed building on Belfast's Lower Crescent, which is subject of Emotiv's plans for a café and manager's apartment, and (inset) one of the firm's EEF headsets.

A San Francisco-based tech firm that makes electroencephalography (EEG) headsets to help understand the human brain, has been linked with a new research operation in Belfast.

Emotiv Inc is a bioinformatics company that also operates from Sydney, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The company say its ‘mission’ is to empower individuals to understand their own brain and accelerate brain research globally.

In an unusual move, the firm appears to have acquired a property close to Queen’s University, and secured planning permission to create both accommodation for visiting specialists as well as a coffee shop on the ground floor to promote its work.

A planning application in the name of Scott Rickard was submitted last year for the listed building at 7 Lower Crescent, located between Botanic Avenue and University Road.

A former UCD professor, Dr Rickard was appointed as Emotiv’s chief AI scientist in April 2023.

An expert in mathematics, computer science, and electrical engineering, Dr Rickard also ran his own Dublin-based tech firm before taking on senior roles at Salesforce and the multinational hedge fund Citadel.

In a supporting statement, submitted as part of the planning process, Emotiv’s planning agent described his client as “an American artificial intelligence research company, who intend, with the assistance of Invest NI, to establish a research and administration facility in Belfast”.

Documents also refer to ‘Emotiv AI & Coffee Company’.

As part of the proposed development, planning officials were informed that Emotiv wish to create an internal managers flat, which would additionally be used for visiting specialists through the Invest NI skills development support programme, which is designed to assist visiting external experts to train and mentor staff.

The statement continued: “As a proposed additional facet of the ‘artificial intelligence development company’ project, the clients wish to have a coffee outlet facility that would not only provide a local service to the existing commercial area, but also encourage to explore the AI developments offered by the company.”

Belfast City Council granted planning approval for the new café and residential apartment last week.

Emotiv was contacted for comment.