MIT’s Embr Labs brings personal thermostat to market
embr labs embr wave wearable

MIT’s Embr Labs brings personal thermostat to market

Embr Labs, an MIT start-up, has launched a wrist-worn personal thermostat to help keep its wearer cool under pressure and  warm when they need it. 

At its core, wearable technology is about empowering the individual. With a smart device on your wrist or built into your clothing, you can gather data on performance, monitor physiology and track progress towards a particular goal. But while most wearables take a passive approach towards improving our lives, a start-up out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a technology that makes an impact in the moment.

Overheating when flustered or shivering in the cold are experiences that every person has had at one point or another. Embr Labs has launched a wearable that could offer the solution when temperature becomes an issue: a personal thermostat worn on the wrist to provide warming or cooling on demand.

Read more: Samsung debuts wearable tech for health and safety

Localizing temperature changes

The Embr Wave wristband has a flat aluminum top with a colored display that symbolizes the heat spectrum. Users simply adjust it from blue to red to feel the desired effect. A thermoelectric tile inside the wristband is in contact with the skin and changes temperature when exposed to an electrical current.

Studies suggest that localized heat can trigger the body’s natural response to temperature changes, meaning users can get the benefits of turning the heating up or down on a regular thermostat through a wearable that’s worn on the wrist – one of the most thermally sensitive parts of the body.

Read more: MIT start-up mPath reads consumer emotions and impulses

The bigger picture

The stated aim of Embr Labs is to make people more comfortable. But that ambition comes with benefits that go beyond the individual. The Embr Labs team believes that its device could help to save energy in buildings.

Research carried out in the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California suggests that extending a building’s thermostat neutral zone — the temperature range before air conditioning or heating kicks on — by just 1 degree can reduce energy consumption by up to 10 percent. Extending the neutral zone by 2 degrees can reduce consumption by up to 20 percent.

The ambition is to perfect the wristband to the point whereby users are comfortable despite that neutral zone being extended.

Read more: Harlequins expands use of wearables to improve player performance

Exploring human-temperature interaction

Although it’s being marketed as a kind of ‘personal thermostat’, the Embr Wave actually works more like a shower. Instead of selecting an exact temperature, users are able to feel a continuous benefit as heat sensations are delivered in rhythmic waves.

“We had to go from power electronics and mechanical engineering to physiology and psychology, in order to build a framework of dynamic heat rhythms that would pack as much temperature relief as possible in a sleek wristband,” said Embr Labs co-founder Cohen-Tanugi. “It was a whole new technological challenge.”

Beyond saving on energy bills, the Embr Labs team anticipates that its technology could be used in the world of entertainment. There are obvious virtual reality applications, for example. “Without getting into too much detail,” says co-founder Sam Shames, “we’re exploring the rich space of human-temperature interaction.”