New Smartwatch Measures Emotions


sensor watch

Dr. Rosalind Picard wears a fitness tracker on her wrist, but unlike many people who wear these, hers does more than track steps. The watch has a sensor that records medical information, measuring the skin’s electrical responses. As a leading engineer at the MIT Media Lab, Dr. Picard hopes that the watch has the capacity to save lives by predicting major health events, such as epileptic seizures. Dr. Picard researches the autonomic nervous system, which includes respiration, digestion, perspiration, and heart rate.

Picard developed the smartwatch with her company, Empatica. The watch is designed to record electrodermal (EDA) activity and wirelessly send this data to a smartphone. Versions of the sensors have been used in the past, but this adapted, highly sensitive sensor technology can receive and provide a continuous reading on our emotional states.

Dr. Picard takes her research in the field very personally, wearing her watch sensor each day and gaining noteworthy insights of changing emotional states. For instance, Picard compares her data with other researchers wearing the sensor, and notes that her tolerance of stress is significantly higher than average. “We find individual differences in stress points,” she explains, “I tend to thrive on thrill-seeking high stress situations, but other people would go nuts with what I do.”

In the scope of Autism, this kind of sensor can be useful for understanding specific health events and situations. The ability of electrodermal sensors go beyond mood tracking. Picard’s research has shown that the sensors can provide emotional information that individuals with Autism may not be able to verbally express. “A person with autism gets overloaded and they shut down and retreat into their own little world,” Picard says. Autistic responses in different situations can seem shocking and non-intuitive to some observers, such as catatonic behavior or head banging. Picard describes how this may be due to efforts to subside the pain. The EDA sensor would be able to communicate the specifics of what the individual is undergoing, and guide caregivers to make better decisions in how to respond.

Dr. Picard’s research and insight may have the capacity to revolutionize the lives of individuals with Autism. By bridging the gap between technology and human emotion, Picard’s field, ‘Affective Computing’ harnesses the power of science and technology to provide effective solutions.

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