By adaptive - December 21st, 2015
Wearable devices are useful for tracking various physical conditions and accomplishments but as Siegfried Mortkowitz reports, the makers of doppel claim it can actually affect a user’s mental state.
In Woody Allen’s 1973 dystopian comedy Sleeper, a group of party-goers in the 22nd century pass around a glowing orb that, through simple contact with a person’s skin, brings about a state of euphoric relaxation, a crude example of the use of a mobile device for the purpose of psychological wellness. While the device itself was more fiction than science and its effects were played for laughs, a U.K.-based startup has developed a wearable device, called doppel, which they say can actually affect a user’s mental state.
According to Jack Hooper, one of the four founding members of the startup, Team Turquoise, doppel can be used to relax, to help you better focus on work tasks while exercising, and it could also help people with sleeping problems.
“Doppel produces a beat,” Hooper explains. “The faster the beat, the more it stimulates. The slower the beat, the more it calms you down. Its effects are similar to music. People use music in all sorts of ways—fast music is used by tired people, slow music for relaxing.”
The device is worn on the wrist, with its active element touching the inside of the wrist, near where a person’s pulse is generally taken. “We found a way to make it unobtrusive,” Hooper says. “There’s no noise. The beat is felt on the skin. You feel it on your skin, and then you ignore it, like your clothes or wristwatch.”
He and his three Team Turquoise colleagues developed the product while enrolled in a course called “Innovation Design Engineering” at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. “We were doing design research into psychophysiology, how your mind understands the signals coming from your body,” Hooper recounts. “Your feelings originate in the body. You perceive the world around you with your body.”
The four were attempting to achieve heart-rate entrainment, where one’s heartbeat synchronizes with that of other people, similar to what occurs between a mother and child, he explains. “And we were actually creating an effect similar to music.”
Once the product reached a certain stage of development, in 2013, the team submitted it to the Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprises, and were awarded 10,000 pounds. They formed their startup in 2014, shortly after they graduated.
Earlier this year, to raise funds to produce doppel, Team Turquoise began a Kickstarter campaign to raise 100,000 pounds, and ended up raising more than 111,000 pounds. “All things being equal, we will be delivering doppel in April,” Hooper says.
He says doppel was tested both in-house and in a controlled trial before the team decided to launch. The controlled trial was conducted by Professor Manos Tsakiris, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway University of London and group leader of the university’s Laboratory of Action and Body, where the test took place. It tested the effect of doppel on reaction times. Forty people were subjected to a Psychomotor Vigilance Test, which involved clicking a key when a dot pops up on a screen and measuring how long it took to react. Each subject took the test twice, once with doppel running and once with a different kind of tactile stimulation.
According to Tsakiris, the beat doppel produces is not regular but is similar to that of a heartbeat. He says that each subject was tested twice, once with the doppel beat and then still wearing the doppel but, instead of the heartbeat, they received only a regular single beat.
“We found that people’s alertness improved only when the doppel was on,” Tsakiris says. “This is an important finding, because it determined that there was an effect.”
He says that the exact neurophysiological mechanism is still under investigation, but that, nevertheless, the behavioral effects of doppel use were clear. “The heartbeat rhythm is very natural,” Tsakiris explains. “We experience it constantly in our lives, without being aware of it. Maybe there is a resonance with the brain. The heart and the brain communicate constantly with each other. The heart influences the brain, and the brain influences the heart. Doppel may take advantage of this dialogue between heart and brain.”
Tsakiris says that, based on his findings, it is probably safe to assume that doppel also works when the beat is slow and helps people to relax.
The trial led to another finding Tsakiris considers important. “We asked [the subjects] if they liked the experience of the device,” he explains. “If they liked it, the effect was higher. That is, there was a correlation between people’s performance and how much they liked it.”
This correlations is significant since the trials were conducted with a basic and non-adjustable version of doppel. The device that will be marketed, Hooper says, will be adjustable. For example, it will have a dial to control the strength of the beat, which the user would turn higher in the street and lower when home.
To change the rate of the beat, Team Turquoise designed a solution “based on observing how people react subconsciously to their conditions,” Hooper explains. “For a slow beat, you stroke the face of the device. For a faster beat, you squeeze the wrist.”
The rates are uploaded to the device via an app. “At any time there are two beats on doppel, one higher one and one lower one,” Hooper explains. “But you can save as many pairs of beats as you like—for instance, much higher tempos for running or much lower ones to help you sleep.”
For running, the doppel can work like a metronome, helping the runner control the tempo. And, as Hooper says, it could also help users fall asleep. “People have said they found it useful to go to sleep. We’re going to trial to test this function. We think it can work.”
Team Turquoise is also planning on expanding the range of uses for doppel. “One of the things we’ve made sure of is that the hardware is adaptable, so we can add new functionality,” he says. “We have lots of plans. We know now we can affect how people feel.”
Tsakiris believes doppel is an important breakthrough and the beginning of a new and potentially useful function for mobile devices. “There is lots of potential,” he says. “The people at Team Turquoise have designed an experience. They didn’t make a device that measures things, such as footsteps or distance covered. There are many potential applications relating to people’s mood and performance.”