Irish startup creates Bluetooth stress sensor for biofeedback games

By Jonah Comstock
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PIP sensorGalvanic, a Dublin-based startup, has created a Bluetooth-enabled galvanic skin response sensor that's also a game controller. The product, called the PIP sensor, is designed to help users learn to reduce their own stress through gamified biofeedback. The company is currently crowdfunding the device through Kickstarter.

UPDATE: Galvanic made their $100,000 funding goal, with 15 hours left in their campaign.

The PIP sensor is a small, wireless, handheld device that measures galvanic skin response, or skin conductivity, through the users' fingertips and transmits that data to a mobile device via Bluetooth. The PIP sensor charges with a USB cord and has a battery life of about 8 hours.

Galvanic will be producing a standalone free app for quantified self enthusiasts that simply records and tracks stress levels. However, the company's main focus has been on developing several games for Apple and Android phones and tablets that use the PIP sensor as the sole controller.

One game, Relax & Race, is a two player racing game where the speed of each player's character (in the released screenshots, a pair of dragons) is determined by how relaxed they are, according to the PIP sensor. The company acknowledges that this is a little incongruous for gamers who are used to doing better at games when their adrenaline is flowing, or becoming stressed when they start to lose.

"The counter-intuitive way the PIP works is a powerful learning mechanism," reads Galvanic's Kickstarter page. "One of the great strengths of video games is that they allow the player to have fun, while performing the same task over and over again. By using games as the context for biofeedback, the user learns how to relax quickly, while having fun at the same time."

Relax&RaceGalvanic has also developed a single-player game called The Loom, where the user lowering their stress level turns a landscape scene from winter to summer, and a film noir-themed party game called Lie Detective, which uses the PIP sensor as a lie detector.

The company plans to develop additional games and open up an SDK so anyone can create apps that use the sensor. The Cornell University design lab has already connected the PIP sensor to "mood lights" -- special lamps that will adjust the lighting level in the room based on a user's stress level.

Galvanic is currently just over halfway to its $100,000 Kickstarter goal. Via the campaign, backers can preorder a device and one game for $99 or a device and all three games for $109. The company plans to ship in the first quarter of 2014.

Galvanic skin response sensors have hit the market with various use cases in the past. Cambridge, Mass.-based Affectiva recently halted the production of its Q-Sensor, a wristworn device that used skin conductivity to predict the onset of seizures. In addition, BodyMedia and Basis Science both include galvanic skin response in the suite of sensors on their respective wearable devices. The US Department of Defense has also been developing apps, such as BioZen, that use various third-party sensors to do biofeedback and reduce stress.

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