Like many health conscious Americans, Dr. Rosalind Picard wears a fitness tracker on her wrist. But hers doesn’t just track steps, it has an extra sensor that gathers medical information.
Picard hopes the sensor, which measures the skin’s electrical response, will soon save lives by predicting major health events such as epileptic seizures. As a leading engineer at the MIT Media Lab, Dr. Picard researches the autonomic nervous system, which includes heart rate, respiration, digestion, perspiration, and the fight-or-flight response.
Picard’s smartwatch, developed by her company Empatica, records electrodermal (EDA) activity and wirelessly sends the data to a smartphone. The technology isn’t new, versions of the sensors have been used in polygraph tests for decades.
But new, highly sensitive sensor technology can now provide a continuous reading on our emotional states, linking the tiniest increase in sweating to psychological or physiological arousal.
Picard calls this idea of using tech to help bridge the gap between human emotions and technology, ‘Affective Computing’ and she has been driving this field of study for several years.
She takes her research personally, and wears her wristband sensor every day. It shows when she’s stressed, and when she’s calm, and yields surprising insights. When Picard compares her data with other researchers wearing the sensor, she notes that her tolerance of stress is higher than average. “We find individual differences in stress points,” Picard explained. “I tend to thrive on thrill-seeking high stress situations, but other people would go nuts with what I do.”
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