The Embrace sensor-laden wearable was designed to help epileptics monitor seizures. Modeled like a smartwatch, the FDA-approved device analyzes physiological signals to detect seizures. The CDC estimates that 1.2% of the population suffer from epilepsy. Empatica attempts to make living with the condition more manageable, while at the same time, using the study of epilepsy as a stepping stone toward an even bigger, more widespread issue: stress and how to deal with it.
Stress elicits responses in the sympathetic nervous system that can activate sweat glands, often turning your palms clammy. But even if you are not noticeably sweating, the current that runs through activated sweat still changes the surface of the skin, called skin conductance. “And that’s one of the signals we measure that changes with stress,” says Picard (co-founder and chief scientist of Empatica Inc.)
The Embrace by Empatica also monitors other physiological data—pulse, blood physical activity, sleep, and temperature. The device, which pairs via Bluetooth to a smartphone, alerts epileptics (or caregivers) when an attack occurs—or is on the horizon. Additionally, Picard began to use Empatica’s early sensor technology to better understand kids with autism, who, she says, are often misunderstood. “People with autism are often very stressed, and people surrounding them don’t notice it. By reading the skin conductance signal, people could see if the person was inwardly very agitated or inwardly very calm–even if outwardly they looked the same
Finally, one of the Embrace’s top selling points is customization. Empatica relies on machine learning to accumulate data on users’ habits and cycles, thereby improving its forecasting ability. The more data you have from each patient, the better the algorithm gets over time.
“A lot of these disorders are related to managing [daily] complexities in life,” Picard explains, adding, “so what we want to do with the monitoring technology is help people navigate better choices for their behavior . . . The idea is that you can sort of intervene and learn and change things over time.” Solutions can be achieved with sleep and breathing changes, counseling, or by adjusting diet, workload, physical activity, or “some complex mix of some or all these”.
Ultimately, the goal of Empatica is to further data analytics, specifically predictive analytics. The idea is that with enough information, the devices can suggest what people should do next to prevent panic attacks and other stress reactions. The company has launched another smartwatch sensor, called E4, just for scientific research (and not for sale).
Why it’s hot: Monitoring stress and its effect on mental health will only become more important int he future and I think this wearable tech is taking a step in the right direction at helping consumers understand their own mental states and help them be more mindful.