A revolution in self-help mental health
This is a project that was developed in the Tufts University course, Human-Machine System Design. The prompt was, "Design for the Future Human."
Wire-framing in Adobe XD
Technical Writer/Business Analyst
High Fidelity Mock ups
Timeframe & Scope
Set 5 years in the future, Empath is a two-part system designed to help users identify their emotions and advise them on steps they can take to improve or maintain their moods/emotions. The first component of the system is a biocompatible sticker/sensor device that is placed behind the ear of the user. It is capable of measuring and recording electrical signals, GSR, electrical activity (intensity) in certain regions, blood oxygenation, pulse, tenseness of the jaw, as well as pitch and amplitude of the user’s voice. It can administer signals through bone conductance and is powered by the bodies’ heat.
The second component of this system is a mobile application. The application asks users about their goals for their mood, and overall emotional and physical health. The mainpage shows your current mood and ways to maintain or change this mood (live-time monitoring). There is also a timeline pages allowing the user to view breakdowns of one’s mood and monthly trends. Perhaps the most crucial part of the mobile app is that it asks for user input to expose patterns and provide the user with a better understanding of the factors that contribute to a variety of emotions.
There are significant challenges in bringing this system to market. Perhaps the greatest challenge aside from incorporating the required technology into a discreet sticker is the fact that many users might not want all of this data collected and stored. In a similar fashion, the design of the application, especially in suggesting how users might want to behave could be construed problematically as we aren’t trying to reinforce any specific bias, rather we simply want to provide suggestions for users, based on what they want to do with their emotions. Other important challenges are: some emotions have the same physical response (so we would have to implement a confidence score the system can use when explaining how you feel), fear around social acceptance/judgement, fear around security and privacy, power required for data transmission, biocompatibility of sticker, phone required for operation.
Note: When thinking of this system, we typically will refer to emotions over mood because we think it will be more feasible to track emotions (shorter duration, greater variance) with machine learning as opposed to moods (indefinite duration, indefinite variance).
A detailed task analysis for the Empath system can be reviewed by clicking here.
Purple boxes denote user actions while blue boxes are automated actions done by system and in app.
From Today to Tomorrow
A lot of the technology that is involved in Empath is actually available in the present day, even if the equipment is larger now than it would need to be then. All of the physiological measures are commonly used in psychology research in order to assess cognitive load, attention, and stress. Within the next few years it is highly likely that the current body of research will grow to encompass emotion identification from cognitive and physiological responses. We see a potential market opportunity now to harness the developing body of research and the great potential of large datasets and machine learning to more accurately predict and “know” an emotional state and provide treatment to users who seek it. After clinical trials and FDA approval, we believe within 5 to 10 years this product would be endorsed by healthcare professionals and widely marketed to the masses.
Ethical & Social Considerations
How comfortable are you sharing your emotions? What about sharing them with a company? This is perhaps the primary challenge in designing an emotional monitoring program and device. People’s emotions are important and often guarded - you don’t walk around telling people exactly what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling… and now people are supposed to trust a brand new company to come in and disrupt the industry with a product that truly requires inherent trust. The idea of emotional monitoring and behavior augmentation is still somewhat novel and scary to many - to have your emotional state tracked, monitored, analyzed and perhaps changed might cause stress and be counterproductive. Suffice it to say with the advent and increased utilization of neuromarketing, having this data, might be regarded as immoral if it were to be sold to marketing firms.
While the technology is minimally invasive in a physical sense (if it is a discreet sticker worn behind the ear) there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health in the global community at large. Keeping the physical device as low profile as possible is certainly key to providing the wearer with no extra attention. We are also considering collecting a large amount of data on someone’s mental and physical wellbeing.
As any system these days, Empath will be a huge step forward in monitoring and analysis of mental health. However, the greatest hurdle in the development and initial success of this system is that at its outset it requires a large amount of user engagement. From the get go, the system tries to tailor itself to provide user-specific suggestions, but without reinforcement from the user, it will never fully be confident. Hence the next main limitation - the system’s confidence. Human’s emotions and mental health are still not fully understood, and despite our advances, emotions are quite complex; as the system learns a Confidence Score (displayed on the home screen) will increase. Another potential area of concern regards the quality of the feedback on a per-person basis; again, however much the user puts into learning alongside the app will lead to the amount of value they derive from the experience. While all of the above are complex challenges and potential limitations to the system’s success, another potential limitation is mass-scale manufacturability. The micro-nature and uncommon technologies utilized in our system would likely present a challenge to rapidly manufacture and sell the system in mass.
We expect Empath to spark a revolution in the self-help mental health market category. We believe there is huge potential for the system to be integrated into current medical systems for continuation of care purposes. With a provider also reviewing your health data, users that need further treatment options could quickly benefit from an expert opinion and seek care expeditiously. Future iterations of the system could include the capacity to measure more, specifically chemical balances in the brain and body to more accurately inform measurements of emotion and mental health. There is currently no way to measure these chemical concentrations accurately so this would be a huge breakthrough in medicine. Finally, we are interested in further applications of this technology, especially in the realm of attention and focus. Imagine as part of future iterations of the system a Cognitive Capacity measurement as well as Mental Fatigue Monitoring and Recommendations. Empath could tell you based on a variety of factors, when you will be most productive at completing certain tasks so you can effectively allocate your time.