If there’s one product category ripe for disruptive innovation, it’s lingerie. So it comes as no real surprise that Microsoft researchers have developed a smart bra. The self-quantifying garment is designed, write the researchers, to “perform emotion detection in a mobile, wearable system” as a means of triggering “just-in-time interventions to support behavior modification for emotional eating.”
The smart bra is outfitted with sensors that measure a woman’s stress level by tracking her heart rate, respiration, skin conductance, and body movements. The data is streamed from the bra to a behavior-modification smartphone app, called EmoTree, and then uploaded to “a Microsoft Azure Cloud” for storage and, one assumes, ad personalization purposes.
Here’s a schematic look at how the Microsoft Nudge Bra is wired:
The researchers provide an example of how the smart bra might be used to deliver behavioral nudges at opportune moments:
Sally has been home from work for a few hours, and she finds herself rather bored. An application on Sally’s mobile phone has also detected that she is bored by reading her physiological state through wearable sensors. Since this mobile application has previously learned that Sally is most susceptible to emotional eating when she is bored, the application provides an intervention to distract Sally and hopefully prevent her from eating at that moment.
I’m not sure this is exactly what Donna Haraway had in mind when she wrote her cyborg manifesto. There doesn’t seem to be much confusion of boundaries involved in a bra-based weight-management app.
Early tests of the smart bra were not altogether successful, it must be said. The device’s short battery life “resulted in participants having to finagle with their wardrobe throughout the day.” Another drawback of the breast-centric form factor is that it’s far from gender-neutral. Its usefulness is restricted to the female anatomy. “We tried to do the same thing for men’s underwear,” reported one of the researchers, “but it was too far away [from the heart].” That has always been a problem. Still, one can imagine other forms of behavior modification that may be facilitated by underpants sensors.
Google Glass, clearly, is just the visible tip of the approaching iceberg. One can only hope that these new underwearables will, when they finally come to market, be equipped with a vibrate mode.