I was lucky enough to never have to take home economics in high school. I don’t really know what was taught in those classes, but I’ve read enough books and have watched enough television to know that there was a possibility that I would have been saddled with an egg, flour sack or an electronic doll for a week to practice being an unwed teen mother.
And I would have failed horribly.
I began beta-testing Empatica’s Embrace seizure alert watch at the end of February and since then have gotten lots of response, questions and comments from other Empatica funders, those with seizure disorders and otherwise, trying to figure out how I got this sweet gig and how they can get a hold of one of these babies themselves. First of all, let me explain what beta-testing is and why you shouldn’t be jealous of me.
Being a beta tester has been more of a commitment than I realized that it would be, but I have been absolutely committed to my uncompensated position. Why? Because the better they are able to make this product, the closer they can get to get it recognized as a medical device and not just as a wearable technology. As I am writing this, they have just begun the clinical testing to begin the approval process to have this device recognized by neurologists and medical institutions all while the beta-testers like myself are fumbling through the clunky beta software and giving feedback when applicable.
I have adjusted my lifestyle to accommodate being tethered to a Bluetooth-dependent watch, but it hasn’t been a completely terrible experience!
This is basically a “protoype” or kind of like a “dress rehearsal” so to speak. It’s not yet ready to be available on the market, but the company needs live testing with people who have the disorders in which they are trying to assist and monitor so they can improve the software. Because it’s not a finished model, it doesn’t have the battery capacity of a normal wearable and generally needs to be charged twice a day. I was definitely warned about this when I began the testing process, but it has still taken a little adjustment to get used to the charging cycle, and have killed it on numerous occasions.
I was told that because it’s a test model, I am not allowed to change out the thick, gray elastic strap the watch came with, which loosens with wear so I am constantly cinching it back up. If it is too tight, the diodes rub my skin until raw and peeling. Also, the elastic strap is a silvery gray, porous elastic material. IT might as well be white and velcro as it was begging to become filthy from the day I took it out of the box.
Empatica hasn’t pushed the finished app and I don’t even use the “teaser app” that they released on their blog for people that are waiting for their watches to arrive this summer/fall. I am using a special “beta app” which doesn’t allow me to see any of my own biofeedback. There’s a blurb about the “Empatica Mate” on their website, and that’s what I’m most excited about being able to use once I receive the finished model. This allows the wearer to see how their stress levels fluctuate throughout the day depending on their activities “like commuting by car vs. bike, meeting with your boss vs. a friend, and physical activity.” The final version of the watch will allow the wearer to customize a gentle vibration when their stress level is rising, for instance. I don’t get any of that.
What I have is constant vibrations when I get too far from my cellphone. The watch, like, I assume all wearables, is connected to your smart phone by Bluetooth and you need to have internet access for it to work. I don’t generally carry around my phone with me all the time. This has been a learning curve for me. However, I have made a positive discovery:
So there’s that. My loss of items has been greatly reduced since I have been wearing this watch over the past six weeks. The Bluetooth range on this model is. . . not so great. Not that Bluetooth has more than a 60 – 100 ft radius anyway. I find that the watch can’t see through skin or walls, so if I’m in the next room the quality of signal decreases dramatically or if I have my wrist tucked under my arm or am sleeping on top of my wrist, I can lose signal just from having body on top of the watch.
A lot of things can set the seizure alert off. And I have the patience and good nature to mark down which ones are false alarms and which ones aren’t. I’ve had to stop in the middle of working with my clients in the middle of workshops due to flailing my hands too grandiosely to excuse myself and text Brad quickly, “Not a seizure” due to an alert going off.
On my birthday, we went mountain biking and the watch sent Brad and called him 17 times with alert messages due to the off-road vibration simulating monoclonal seizures. If my breathing is slightly labored, for instance if I am somewhat agitated or have been running for a short period of time, I’ve had false positives reported. I have even had a false-positive sent when I had secretly gone to 7-11 to get a slurpee one hot afternoon during a long break from work while I was standing in the store tapping the air bubbles out of the frozen confection. So, the device is still a work in progress.
I’ve never been a person to have my cellphone on me at all times. Usually when I’m at work my phone stays on my desk or in my bag unless I need to check it.
Because I’m a damn good employee.
However, over the last several weeks, I have been finding that if I leave my office, even to go to the restroom which is right across the hall, I will go “out of range” which is only slightly annoying as if I’m out of range for too long, the watch will go into “Error” status which won’t auto-restart when I come back in range, unlike the “out of range” status. When I’m in “Error” status, I have to manually go onto my phone and turn the app off and on again and get the watch to reset.
Like I said, not a big deal, but just annoying.
The only feature that is usable by me on this beta watch is the actual “watch” feature. It’s very futuristic with a single white light illuminating the hour and a slowly pulsing blue light showing the minute. Even a co-worker, whom is color-blind was able to read it once I explained the hour vs minute feature.
You may be asking, does it work? Despite my jokes and tales of false positives, I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, walking down a sidewalk on a street in a city I was unfamiliar with, hungry, dizzy and disoriented – next thing I knew, I was being held in Brad’s arm as he was holding my VNS magnet to my hand to help me “swipe” myself for the umpteenth time.
My watch called Brad and notified him that I was going into an partial or absence seizure and was no longer keeping up with him during our walk. He was able to immediately turn around and retrieve my magnet from my ankle to assist me and after a few minutes of postical phase, I was able to continue on!
Am I thrilled?
Yeah. A little.