Thync’s new Relax wearable killed my stress in 10 minutes

Hacking the human, more subtly this time
This device kills stress in 10 minutes

Hacking the human body will be where wearable technology finds its peak, and we're not talking about tracking sleep patterns to help you get more Zzzs - we're talking proper manipulation.

Last year we tried out Thync's Vibe, a small triangle that sits on your head and uses ultrasound to raise energy and lower stress. With 10,000 units sold to date, and all funding raised through venture capital, it's fair to say Thync has had a successful start.

But user feedback has largely revolved around the Vibe's stress-reducing feature, which has now become the entire focus for the next generation of the device.

Thync is also taking this second-gen Vibe off the head and refitting it into a wearable that sits around the neck, and naming it the Thync Relax. "People are more comfortable having a thing around their neck," Isy Goldwasser, Thync's CEO, told Wareable. Indeed, the first device might have been a bit overly sci-fi for the more self-aware among us. A bit Deus Ex if we're honest.

The new Vibe essentially looks like a pair of running headphones, but with a couple of sticky pads on the back. These attach to the neck and stimulate nerves that act on the brain's adrenaline system. In the prototype I tried the pads were powered by another device, but I still got a good feel for how it will all work during my 10-minute de-stress demo.

"We're aiming this at people who just want to switch off," said Goldwasser. "The idea of using wearable tech to do something a drink does is incredible, and over time it's going to be better because it's targeted and customisable. You can't customise drink or drugs, but you can with neurosignaling."

That's what the Relax is all about: winding down at the end of a stressful day to get a better night's sleep, or maybe taking a break during work hours to unload tension.

"We're hitting a plateau physically, but when it comes to rest and recovery, those things are all neck-up," added Goldwasser.

So what does it feel like? Don't panic, you won't be feeling any currents passing through your body. It's more of a mini massage that can be best described as like having someone gently blow on the back of your neck.

During the session, you're able to adjust the intensity in the accompanying smartphone app, getting it to a point where you can feel the effects but not uncomfortably so. The intensity varies over the course of the session as your nerves become used to the sensations and the Relax counters by changing up the patterns.

Now, I thought about forcefully stressing myself out ahead of time - maybe fill out a few tax returns or go cycling through some of London's busiest streets - but truth be told I'm stressed enough as it is. I'm in the process of moving, and I've not been sleeping well. I also had a cup of coffee on arrival, and as I don't drink a lot of coffee I probably notice the effects more than regular drinkers.

Read next: The science behind Apple and Fitbit's mindfulness push

When the demo was over, I definitely felt different, but the change had been subtle. I felt sleepy. The effects of the coffee were less pronounced than they would have normally been; I felt the buzz, but I could still have nodded off were I given the option of something more comfortable than the hotel lobby floor. There's always a risk of self-inducing a placebo effect, but the caffeine was a good indicator that something had indeed changed.

Thync's CEO told me that the effects will vary for different people, but says you'll be able to customise the patterns in a way that works best for you. "Studies show results comparable to taking beta blockers," he said.

Thync will be doing an official announcement about the new device this week, when the next round of funding will start. A component of the next round will be equity crowdfunded, but you won't be seeing it on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Thync's near term ambition is to ship a quarter of a million units of the new device, and we'll hear more on a firm release date and price soon (expect somewhere around the $200 mark of the original). Right now Thync says it's targeting spring 2017 for release.

After giving it a short test run, I'm intrigued to test it over a longer period of time and see if it really can have a positive impact on my stress levels.

Stress can have a significantly negative effect on sleep, among other things, so the ability to shake it off in a 10-minute session with a wearable device and without the need for drugs or alcohol would be at the very least lifestyle-changing.

"It's eventually going to be a tattoo, eventually it's going to be an implant," said Goldwasser, talking about the future of this type of human-hacking tech. "If we could access all our pathways directly and will ourselves to be motivated or calm, that would change people's lives."

What do you think?

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