In case you hadn't noticed, wearables are enjoying just a *bit* of popularity right now. Manufacturers claim they can monitor everything from steps to sleep quality and fertility. But none of that might be quite as eye-opening as what Charles Lo hopes to get into the market.
How are you feeling today?
Lo is the creator of Upmood, a smart wearable device that monitors your emotions. Currently, the device, which you wear like a watch, is gathering funding through a Kickstarter campaign. Emotional response is connected to your autonomic nervous system, so by collecting basic biodata like your heart rate, the device works with an app to quantify how you're feeling and show you emotional patterns. You also can connect to friends and family through the device to check how they're doing emotionally, too.
For the individual and all of us
Lo explains that, while the Upmood wristband doesn't give advice, the awareness you get from your emotional data potentially could empower you to engage in better emotional control. You might come to admit, for example, that you relax better doing one activity over another, or that your levels of stress are highest as you perform particular kinds of tasks at work. Armed with your data, you could choose specific entertainments or talk to your boss about how you could be more comfortable on the job.
But Lo isn't pushing the social elements of the device to the background. He hopes that the device will allow people to understand what others are experiencing so they can help each other feel better. In fact, the main motivation behind the creation of the device is the unfortunately high number of suicidal children in Hong Kong--Lo wanted to make something that could help parents monitor their kids. That concept could be expanded to other situations, too, such as individuals who are nonverbal due to dementia, autism, or other conditions. In that context, Lo actually sees the social component of Upmood as its key differentiator.
"[Unlike] other bands," Lo says, "[Upmood's] focus is always trying to find the solution within the person. Our idea is, since emotion is already a very internal issue, it often needs external factors to help bring a person out of their own trap."
An admittedly long way to go
While there are plenty of apps like Daylio and iMoodJournal out there based on the concept of mood tracking, most aren't wearable integrated--you usually have to manually enter data based on your own perception of how you feel. Subsequently, Upmood's biodata approach might offer better, less biased accuracy and convenience.
That word might is important. Many medications, for example, can influence autonomic nervous system response. Good examples are beta blockers and nicotine. To be truly effective, Upmood will have to develop features that account for these types of factors, since they potentially could throw off the biodata. That's no small challenge, because individual biological response to different stimuli is so unique. Differentiating between multiple emotions that invoke similar biological responses might pose a problem, too.
For these types of reasons, Lo acknowledges that his biggest hurdle is getting approval from the FDA and gathering the investments that will make the additional research that's necessary possible. He's also conscious of the ethical considerations the research and use of the product could stir up, as testing requires emotional manipulation, and people still would need privacy and security protocols. Even the fact that the device has to simplify our notoriously complex emotions into more neatly labeled compartments must be taken seriously.
But Lo doesn't seem averse to improving his product and being careful to get it right. He says he hopes to partner with other providers, such as the Calm app, to bring better functionality to Upmood. He already has plans for three more versions of the app that will support workspace efficiency, yoga, and sleep monitoring, too. He envisions the product one day integrated into social media sites, emotion-driven music, gaming, adding input to A.I., and more.
When it comes to emotional intelligence, there's no real substitute for simply taking the time to tune in to ourselves and others. But it might be that devices like Upmood bridge a gap. They might force us to come to terms with our disconnections, finally look others in the eye, and start talking. It might be that we need to see the hard data, provided through these types of gadgets, before we put personal behavioral change into action. So while we can't ignore the research and development work that's still required for all areas of safety, maybe this is one kind of wearable we can't afford not to produce.