Empatica begins shipping seizure-tracking wristband

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A high-tech wristband that can detect seizures as they approach is finally shipping to its earliest buyers.

The Embrace, designed by Cambridge startup Empatica, looks like a lean fitness tracker with a shiny square face, but it has a few unique sensors that set it apart from devices you’d see at the gym.

Temperature sensors detect a spike in body heat, gyroscopes and accelerometers detect movement (smartphones have these, too), and much of the magic derives from tech that can detect electric changes across the skin — a feature that changes when a person is anxious, or depressed, or about to undergo a seizure. It buzzes to warn the wearer when an epileptic episode is on the way.

Empatica was co-founded by Rosalind Picard, an MIT Media Lab scientist who has been inventing new ways for machines to understand people. (She is also co-founder of the Waltham startup Affectiva, which uses the video camera on a smartphone or iPad to watch a person’s face and read the emotion they are feeling.)

The stress-tracking work started as a research project in 2007. Empatica was founded in 2014 with the goal of creating a wearable device that could detect events like seizures, but also less severe changes such as stress.

“Stress signals reach every organ of your body, so these stress signals are potentially influencing everything,” Picard, who remains Empatica’s chief scientist, told MIT News. “Sometimes you don’t realize [you’re stressed] until you get that just-in-time notice.”

The company raised more than $780,000 in a crowd-funding drive in 2014.

Empatica was expecting to ship its devices by December, but missed that deadline, the company said in a blog post late last year. Empatica began shipping a beta version of the device several weeks ago.

The Embrace can also be purchased via the company’s website, for about $200. Empatica estimates that these devices will ship by July.

The company is also marketing a bulkier, more powerful version of the Embrace to researchers. Named the E4, it enables researchers to collect data that could be used to signal an approaching seizure far earlier than the wearable version. That device costs $1,690.

Researchers at Intel, Microsoft, NASA, MIT, Harvard, and Boston Children’s Hospital are using the E4 and studying ways in which a reliable sensor could help predict the onset of episodes, and perhaps save lives.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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