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12/5/2013
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Microsoft Says Smart Bra Monitors Mood

Prototype device aims to warn wearers of triggers that lead to emotional overeating. Don't look for it in your next Victoria's Secret catalogue, however.

8 Wearable Tech Devices To Watch
8 Wearable Tech Devices To Watch
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Reports indicate Microsoft could unveil a smartwatch sometime next year, but in the meantime, here's some unusual evidence of the company's interest in wearable technology: a smartbra designed to reduce emotional eating.

According to a newly published study, the bra is equipped with sensors that monitor the wearer's mood and trigger a smartphone app to alert the user when it detects an oncoming binge. These alerts are shaped by user feedback, enabling the bra to improve its ability to read a specific person's feelings.

Microsoft researchers conducted the study with collaborators from the University of Rochester in New York and University of Southampton in the UK. The project sought to associate emotions with poor eating habits, and to determine if wearable devices can help.

[Despite rumors to the contrary, Microsoft Is Not Killing Windows RT.]

But don't expect a Surface-branded brassiere to be on store shelves next Christmas. The researchers chose the bra form factor primarily because it allows sensors to be placed near the heart. The study noted that follow-up research is turning toward more gender-neutral devices, such as bracelets.

Before creating the bra, the researchers first had to establish relationships between a person's emotional state and the likelihood that he or she will overeat. To accomplish that, they asked participants to log both their emotions and eating patterns using a smartphone app. Not surprisingly, those who felt stressed, upset, or bored were most likely to eat outside of regular meals. 

The smartphone app, called EmoTree, allowed participants to visualize which combinations of moods were likely to trigger snacking. The app also included a breathing exercise to help users curb cravings. According to the study, EmoTree caused the vast majority of participants to become more aware of their feelings. But only 37.5% said they'd changed their behavior due to logging their emotions. The breathing exercise's efficacy, meanwhile, was "not as strong" as researchers had hoped for.

Researchers concluded it was valuable for users to monitor their emotions but that "one size fits all" intervention techniques such as the breathing exercise were too impersonal. Participant data suggested the ways in which emotional eating might be triggered or avoided vary from person to person. Only around a quarter of participants expressed enthusiasm for the technique; others suggested alternatives that ranged from being told a joke to completing a quick meditation routine.

The researchers realized many of the less-promising results could be improved by an updated smartphone app that could be customized to encourage a variety of intervention functions. In fact, the study noted that simply reading through a menu of intervention activities might be enough to "break the food focus" for some users.

The researchers built on these early tests with the bra, which was equipped with an EKG sensor, skin conductance sensor, gyroscopes, and a microprocessor powered by a 3.7-volt battery. The smart undergarment communicated with the smartphone app via Bluetooth. Data was then backed up remotely into the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

Participants continued to log moods and eating into EmoTree while the bra monitored their vital signs. According to the study, this enabled machine learning that enabled the bra to become better acquainted with its wearer's unique triggers.

Though the smart bra was designed to detect a user's stress, it ironically may have added some of its own. The study concedes that the bra was "very tedious for participants," who had to "finagle with their wardrobe throughout the day" because the bra's boards had to be recharged every three to four hours.

The study claims the smart bra was able to classify emotional fluctuations nearly three-quarters of the time. The researchers said this success rate demonstrates that "building a wearable, physiological system is feasible."

Has Microsoft struck a major blow against emotional eating? It's hard to say. The study included only a dozen participants, only four of whom ended up in the final trial with the smart bra prototypes. With such a small sample, it's difficult to know how results may vary.

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 2:54:45 AM
Re: Interesting idea, bad execution.
I like the idea of wearable devices that help people improve their health. If someone gets the interface right (Apple's certainly invested a lot bringing in a lot of fitness people), I think these products could have profound, measurable effects-- like increases in the user's life expectancy.

That said, I like "absurdity of things" a lot. I hope people start using that.

I think this one qualifies as absurb, though I was a little on the fence at first. When I think about the most far-reaching applications, I think about devices that create a perpetual stream of information about my health. Right now, we go to the doctor once per year, we take a few tests, and we get a snapshot into our health-- an incomplete story whose ellipses often allow diseases to go undetected. With an uninterrupted stream of information, we can catch things earlier (but then again, we could also needlessly freak out over incorrect readings, or benign fluctuations). And that's not to mention the benefits people will get in terms of tracking fitness (but then again, there's also the frankly dystopian idea that this sort of data might become part of our insurance system). If the UI or implementation isn't any good, the tech will be worthless, but like I said, if someone gets it right...

Anyway, even though I clearly believe in in the power of this sort of technology, I can't get past the absurdity of the batteries running dry after only a few hours. The bra was designed to track irritation-- but it sounds like it probably contributed a ton of irritation too. I can see why they decided to keep the bra a prototype, and to move on to new form factors.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 6:55:40 PM
Re: Interesting idea, bad execution.
Along the lines of "there's an app for that," perhaps we should be saying more often, "there's a brain for that."
Stu_Pendisdick
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Stu_Pendisdick,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/5/2013 | 1:19:49 PM
Meh.
35 years ago, we had "Mood Rings".

 

This will no doubt work just as reliably, and at hundreds of times the cost.

 

Being a Microsoft product, does this mean that it will have to be removed and put back on again when it ( no doubt frequently ) stops working?

 

 

 
U02IV15
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U02IV15,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/5/2013 | 1:13:49 PM
Great idea...here's why:
Yes, I have known that emotional eating is bad however, having a tool to make you aware of your mood would be quite helpful for me.  I don't think about "why" I'm eating, I tend to just eat when my brain tells me I want something to eat.  Again, making me AWARE of why I'm eating would be beneficial...before I eat and pack on the pounds.  :)

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 12:16:10 PM
Re: Interesting idea, bad execution.
No word on Ballmer-inspired mood monitoring hat product for people with high blood pressure.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 11:59:04 AM
Re: Interesting idea, bad execution.
People have known for years when you are in a bad mood you may overeat. Do you really need a wired bra and companion smartphone app to tell you to take a deep breath -- and then go for a walk, if possible? Jeez. Let's research some real problems, Microsoft.

 
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 11:40:03 AM
Too bad
It's a tragecy for comedy that they're not rushing this into production. I can definitely see it as an item for Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide. I would trust Dave Barry to tell us what this says about society.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/22/3771595/dave-barrys-gift-guide.html
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 11:34:44 AM
Re: Interesting idea, bad execution.
I like it Kristin -- we can start calling this the "absurdity of things." All these health apps face a challenge of motivation, of getting people who would rather ignore our health (most of us) to engage in this way.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2013 | 11:28:37 AM
Interesting idea, bad execution.
I think this one can be filed under "absurd wearable tech." The notion is interesting -- a device that learns your behavior to prevent emotional eating -- but i just can't support (ba-dum-chh) this prototype. A bracelet, sure, but not a cumbersome piece of clothing that requires charging multiple times a day.
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