Empatica crowdfunding Embrace, a wearable for epilepsy

By Jonah Comstock
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EmbraceCambridge, Massachusetts and Milan, Italy-based Empatica is crowdfunding a new wristworn tracker device, Embrace, which brings clinically validated tracking methods to the consumer market. The technology has an initial primary focus on epilepsy, but is also usable for activity, stress and sleep tracking in healthy individuals and will gradually add use cases for other chronic conditions including anxiety, depression, and autism.

Empatica's Chief Scientist is Rosalind Picard, an MIT professor who formerly co-founded Affectiva. Back in late 2011, Affectiva launched an emotional arousal wearable called the Q-sensor based on Picard's research with children with epilepsy at Boston Children's Hospital. In April 2013, though, as MobiHealthNews reported at the time, Affectiva discontinued the Q-sensor and refocused the company on emotional analysis for advertising focus groups and Picard left the company and joined up with Empatica, a company founded by Italians Matteo Lai and Simone Tognetti focused on creating a similar wearable.

"To cut a long story short, we got together with Ros and we decided to do a new product together that would be good for epilepsy as well as other chronic conditions," Lai, the CEO of Empatica, told MobiHealthNews.  The product they created was called the E3, and it was a clinically-focused device that has now been in use by researchers at a number of institutions including Microsoft Research, Intel, Stanford, Yale, and NASA.

"It’s a very, very well-received sensor and it’s enabled projects that are difficult to do with lab equipment, because it’s clinically valuable data that you can get in the field," he said. "So you can give it to patients so you can get data and you can study everything from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, Schizophrenia, depression, stress, anxiety, and also epilepsy and autism." 

Embrace, the forthcoming consumer device based on the E3, measures monitor physiological stress, emotional arousal, sleep and physical activity, and for people with epilepsy, it detects a seizure as it begins and automatically informs a parent, caregiver, or friend so they can call for help. Lai said the company decided to transition into a consumer device because the need is so great.

"You might have quite a few friends that have epilepsy but they never told you," he said. "One in every 26 people suffers from epilepsy during their lifetime. And 1 percent of the population suffers during any given time."

Lai said that people with epilepsy often don't want to admit it or have it widely known, so the important thing in creating a consumer device was that it be easy to use but also attractive to wear. Since the company is marketing the device toanyone who might want to use it for tracking stress, activity or sleep, wearing it doesn't necessarily broadcast that the user has epilepsy.

"It’s a good looking device," he said. "It’s the first time a medical device looks beautiful and is something that you want to wear. Not something to be ashamed of or a patch that you have to hide on your body because it’s ugly to look at."

Embrace's Indiegogo campaign has already raised nearly four times its $100,000 goal. Meanwhile, Empatica is pursuing FDA clearance for the device, developing apps for additional chronic conditions, and even working on a biofeedback videogame that would be controlled via the wearable. It's also developing E4, the next generation of its clinical research device.