Stress is common for most people – and for some, it’s more than tension and anxiety; it leads to dangerous health problems, from heart issues to panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. Measuring one’s stress is critical to managing its risks. A stress detection method developed by Dr. Rosalind Picard, co-founder of the health care tech company Empatica and professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, makes it possible – and simple. Noninvasive and portable, the device is proving to be more than a smartwatch; it’s a key breakthrough in saving people’s lives from the impact of stress.
As detailed in a recent Fast Company article, the device was initially designed to make epilepsy more manageable. The Embrace, which can be worn at all times, gives epileptics advanced warning of an impending seizure by measuring physiological signals, such as changes in sweat gland activity on the surface of wearers’ skin. Because sweat is a symptom of a variety of conditions, including extreme, life-threatening stress episodes, Dr. Picard realized the same technology can be used to detect and interpret conditions beyond epilepsy.
Dr. Picard, who is also director of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group, has already used this technology while working with autistic people. “People with autism are often very stressed, and people surrounding them don’t notice it,” she explains. “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.”
There is a distinct opportunity to refine and market The Embrace and similar devices to a more general audience. “We’re developing the applications that can help people understand stress… the technology is there,” Dr. Picard says. The Embrace represents a major stride forward in making health care less reactive and more preventive –potentially changing the way we think about our health and the risks of our daily routines, before it’s too late.