Embrace, a ‘wearable gadget’ that alerts epileptic seizures

By Carlos Fernandez de Lara

(CNNMexico) – Count steps, record our sleep or heart rate, measure calorie burn, notify us of emails, messages or calls; Those are most of the functions that today’s wearables perform; However, firms such as Empatica seek to create wearables with a much more complex function: saving lives or alerting people to possible illnesses or diseases.

The most recent bet of the company is Embrace, a smart bracelet capable of alerting family members or epilepsy patients to possible seizures or seizures before they occur.

“We started as a company in 2011 in Italy with the aim of understanding people’s behavior in everyday life. We wanted to understand the emotional response ”, explains the founder and CEO of Empatica, Matteo Lai in an interview with CNNMéxico.

The company began with the commercialization of a bracelet capable of constantly measuring heart rate, movement, electrodermal response of the skin and body temperature, explained its founder.

The firm with headquarters in Milan, Italy, and operations in San Francisco and Boston, United States, has more than 130 clients such as Microsoft Research, Intel, Sony, NASA, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Boston Children’s Hospital, among others. .

Due to the type and quality of the sensors integrated into the E3 and E4 bracelets that the company sells, Empatica wearables are not focused on performance or physical well-being issues, but rather seek to support scientific research.

“Previously the only way to measure many of people’s behaviors was with large computers within medical facilities or laboratories; However, these have the limitation that they only analyze the person in short periods, with these new devices we can accumulate information in real time to try to understand and detect signals from the human organism in the face of issues such as depression, stress, heart problems and other diseases, ”explains Lai.

The most recent bet of the company to the market is Embrace, a bracelet that works as a smart watch capable of measuring the physical activity and sleep patterns of the user, but can also alert people (or family members) who suffer from epilepsy about possible attacks or seizure episodes before and when they occur.

The previous response time can vary by the intensity of the seizures and the person.

Lai comments that Embrace was born from the collaboration and work with the director of Affective Computing Research and Professor of the MIT Media Lab, Rosalind Picard, who managed to detect that certain signals of the human organism, registered by the electrodermal response sensors developed by Empatica, were related to epileptic episodes.

Embrace combines information from integrated galvanic and heart rate sensors with software developed by Empatica to deliver consistent readings of the human body’s electrodermal activity (EDA).

EDA is about information generated by some of the deepest regions of the brain responsible for emotions such as fear, anxiety, and arousal. According to the company, these regions show a lot of activity prior to and during episodes of epileptic seizures.

The wearable not only alerts the patient to take precautions, but is also able to notify parents, colleagues, friends or medical personnel via their smartphones to support the patient during the epileptic episode.

“The problem is that epileptic seizures can be very dangerous and can even lead to death. The problem is that most of these deaths happen because the patient is alone and there is no one to help them. The goal is to be able to intervene immediately or to be prevented, ”says Lai.

Currently, according to data from the Center for Epilepsy Education, more than 50 million people worldwide suffer from the disease, most of them in developing countries.

Although still recognized as a small startup, the CEO of Empatica hopes to open up the Embrace platform data to its clients and scientific community to extend the wearable detection capabilities and symptoms.

Embrace started in mid-November as a project on the public financing platform, IndieGoGo, with the goal of obtaining $ 100,000 for its development and mass production.

To date, the project has raised more than $ 250,000 and the first units are expected to begin shipping in July 2015. The smart bracelet will be priced at approximately $ 199.

“It is good to know how many calories you have burned when you run, but that is not information that will save your life (…) We live in a very complex world and our body is not designed for that complexity, people are dying of diseases that we can prevent such as diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy. That is why we need this technology to learn more about our body ”, says Lai.