New PIP device measures stress to help users relax

Kickstarter bio-sensor is held between thumb and forefinger to measure 'galvanic skin response'
  • @jjvincent

Creating technology that allows individuals to endlessly measure and analyse themselves makes perfect sense for health-fanatics, and using Nike’s FuelBand or the FitBit Flex allows people to cheerfully obsess over the minutiae of their day. But what if you were tracking your stress levels instead? How would you use that information?

Aiming to provide an answer to this question is the PIP - a teardrop-shaped wireless biosensor that measures stress via ‘galvanic skin response’. Resembling the clicker from a set of car keys the PIP is held between thumb and fore-finger and is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign.

It works by measuring the conductivity of your skin – a physiological reaction affected by how busily your sweat glands are working, and how blood is circulating under the skin. Taken together these metrics can give a measurement of how stressed an individual is.

The makers behind the PIP have created their own in-house algorithms to measure stress levels, but the real kicked is the games that are paired with device. Connecting via Bluetooth the PIP is used as a controller for Android and iOS games – teaching individuals to control their own stress levels in order to make progress in the game.

One title named ‘Relax and Race’ puts players in control of a dragon, with their stress level used to determine their steed’s speed. The more stressed out you are, the slower your dragon flies. Although this may sound like the feedback cycle from hell, the makers promise that the opposite is true and that controlling our stress is like any muscle – practice makes perfect.

Speaking to The Independent, Daragh McDonnell, CTO of Galvanic (the company behind the PIP) said that the games force users to develop “personal strategies to improve their performance – to figure out what works for them [so they can] apply them to real-world stress situations.”

Another game – The Loom – takes the competitive element out of the equation by showing the user a landscape that blooms as they relax: “the key point is that the game environment is inherently relaxing, which helps to overcome any reservations the player may have about being assessed.”

Galvanic are also keen to stress the possible medical applications of their invention, and have introduced the PIP to therapists to see how they might use the device.

After seeing the device Dr Mark Matthews, the Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cornell University said: "This type of technology has the potential to positively change how we live. [We’re] aiming to get therapists to use it with their clients as ways to scaffold learning anti-anxiety (relaxation) interventions like mindfulness and breathing exercises.”

“Ultimately I would like to see this as an intervention that people with bipolar disorder (and others) could use to help wind down their day and go to sleep."

The idea of endlessly measuring our bodies has also seemed like a bad idea to me – an invitation for neuroticism rather than physical and mental well-being. But if devices like the PIP pitch themselves towards the therapeutic rather than the competitive, then I could see myself relaxing at the prospect of the quantified self.