Connected wearable devices are now being designed with functionality that goes beyond mere activity tracking and actually enables health risk prevention.

Smart watch designed to anticipate epileptic seizures

With a market that San Francisco-based Wearable World predicts will be worth $30 billion by 2018, electronic wearable devices clearly have considerable growth potential. Tracking your steps, analysing sleep or counting up calories are just some of the functions incorporated into these wristbands and connected watches. However, if they are to go beyond the novelty stage, these connected objects will have to prove their real worth in the longer term. One example of a device that is pushing back the boundaries is the Embrace watch – currently still at the prototype stage – whose creators have raised over $270,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. What differentiates this device from similar rivals is that it actually enables the wearer to predict an imminent epileptic seizure.   

The Embrace watch is equipped with sensors which analyse electrodermal activity and body temperature. An epileptic seizure is characterised by intense neural activity in the brain which in turn is manifested in skin temperature increase.

The watch is connected to two dedicated apps that relay physiological information which allows wearers to track their own physical condition and to moderate their activity levels when they are overtaxing themselves, or alternatively to send an alert to a family member, friend or doctor when experiencing the symptoms of an oncoming epileptic fit.

Embrace has been developed by Italian startup Empatica, which has also created other products used by major institutions such as NASA and the Boston Children’s Hospital. The watch is actually the brainchild of Professor Rosalind Picard, founder and director of the Affective Computing Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, who came up with the idea back in 2007 when she was leading a research project at the MIT Media Lab looking into the causes of human stress and its physical manifestations on the skin, using one of the very first prototypes of a wearable electronic device.

Empatica is not the only company looking to provide alerts to a potential epileptic seizure, which is in fact one of the most difficult conditions to foresee. Seattle-based Artefact is also working on a prototype for a sensor-equipped patch called Dialog. Connected objects thus continue to break new ground, adding to their basic measurement capability advanced functionality which can actually save lives.


By Eliane HONG