Amazon is reportedly planning to enter the wearable space for the first time, which if true, is in itself huge news. Even more so that those reports suggest the rumoured wrist-worn device it's working on will be able to understand emotion by analysing our voice through microphones and software the company is working on.
Wearables that understand how we are feeling isn't new. Wearables can now track and analyse biometric data to let us know when we are stressed. But the idea that a device can know when we are happy or sad through our voice is something that companies have yet to explore. It would be an interesting move from Amazon, which has already made major strides in the smart home space and has yet to give the world a more personal device.
Amazon isn't alone in wanting to tap into our emotions. A host of startups have tried, failed and continue to chase that complex dream of looking deeper into the human mental state and emotional health through wearables for a whole host of reasons. Here's who's doing what right now.
Empatica's wearable began life as an MIT Media Lab project, but now this is one of the few devices you can actually get hold of.
While it looks like a fitness tracker, it uses sensors to track electrodermal activity – sweat induced moisture. As well as monitoring temperature and movement, Embrace is able to detect spikes in any activity, showing when a user is anxious, depressed, stressed or about to have an epileptic seizure. This core part of its functionality, for some users at least, is called the Embrace Alert System and works with a companion app.
Empatica's AI engine can use the data from the watch to help monitor for two of the more dangerous kinds of seizures, known as "grand mal" or "generalized tonic-clonic" seizures and then send an alert to call for help from emergency caregivers.
The Embrace now has FDA approval while its bulkier, beefier siblings, the E3 and E4, are being used in hospitals and universities for research into detecting epileptic seizures as early as possible.
We first came across Moxo, a wearable sensor from MIT Media Lab spin-off mPath, back in 2017. It works by measuring changes in skin conductance (electrical changes across the skin) and works together with a pair of eye-tracking glasses, or GoPro cameras, to determine emotions in the wearer including stress, frustration and boredom.
The startup calls the process emototyping, which essentially consists of tracking changes in physiological arousal and the sympathetic nervous system. The startup has previously worked in market research with brands like LEGO, Google, Best Buy and Hasbro. The eye tracking component means that, for instance, if a participant is shown a variety of products, the team can pinpoint exactly when their levels of interest start and finish.
It's also been used in education where it can detect when a child is struggling to concentrate on reading by looking around the room. The startup presented three years of research on kid engagement at SXSW last year, which you can find out more about here.
We have been following the story of Feel for a while now, a wristband that is designed to make you feel happy.
It aims to do that through multiple sensors including a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), which is able to detect something called Electrodermal Response EDR, something that is regarded as a great indicator of emotional state. That data is also combined with movement, blood volume pressure and skin temperature sensors to deliver the data to your phone.
Data is sent to the companion app where you can view your emotional state and get a better idea of the factors that could be having an impact on it. That could be down to people you meet or the environment you've been in. You know, like spending a long day in the office, for instance, or going for a tough gym session.
Last time we spoke to Sentio Solutions, the startup behind Feel, we were told it had developed a full working prototype. It appears it's still conducting research and clinical studies though to get Feel out for people to start using.
The emotion sensing wearables that sadly didn't make it
Making wearables is hard, but it's clear that making ones that can tell us how we feel can be even harder. We've covered devices that made big promises of tapping into our emotions, but ultimately failed at the first hurdle.
Like Upmood (pictured above), which claimed to collect a host of biometric data including heart rate to to deliver live emotion detection along with stress readings. It failed to raise the necessary funds on Kickstarter to make it a reality.
UK startup Vinaya was planning to launch its Zenta biometric bracelet, which raised over $200,000 on Indiegogo and was scheduled to ship in January 2017. The piece of smart jewellery, which works just like a fitness tracker, also tracked emotions to improve overall wellbeing. Vinaya unfortunately fell into administration, and with it the chances of ever seeing its innovative tech.
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