Wristify: Thermal Comfort via a Wrist Band

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on November 5, 2013

in Alumni Life, Engineering, In the News

Can’t get the room temperature just right? Whether you are wrangling with your family or workmates, getting a comfortable environment can be difficult. And expensive—building heating and cooling amount to some 16.5 percent of U.S. primary energy consumption.

wristify cuff creates thermal confort

A MADMEC attendee tries out Wristify’s thermoelectric bracelet. Photo: Franklin Hobbs

A team of MIT students and alumni has a new low-cost solution: Wristify, a wrist cuff that allows individuals to maintain a comfortable body temperature independent of their environment. In essence, their thermoelectric bracelet monitors air and skin temperature and then responds with pulses of hot or cold waveforms to the wrist.

The Wristify team recently won first prize and $10,000 in MIT’s Making and Designing Materials Engineering Competition (MADMEC)—that’s after months of development and 15 prototypes.

Co-inventor Sam Shames ’14, a materials science and engineering senior, shared what’s next for the team in this Slice of MIT interview. Other co-inventors include graduate students Mike Gibson ’12 and David Cohen-Tanugi SM ’12 and postdoc Matt Smith PhD ’12.

How did the Wristify team make the key discovery that human skin is very sensitive to minute, rapid changes in temperature, which affect the whole body.

We first made the discovery from using our prototype. In particular, Matt Smith noticed that the device was more comfortable when using it in a manual pulsing mode, switching it on and off at controlled intervals. We all tried the bracelet in this mode and agreed with Matt’s discovery. This led to the literature review on human thermal perception and the finding that supported that discovery, which in turn led us to incorporate automatic pulsing into the prototype.

How has the collaboration worked among the four co-inventors?

Our collaboration has worked very well. One important factor is that we all have a wide skill set ranging from technical to interpersonal. That has allowed everyone to contribute to all areas of the project, including prototyping, design, communication, and, more recently, marketing. In addition, another important factor has been consistent communication between the four of us about our goals and passions for this project and how we see it fitting into the broader schemes of our studies and careers.

What aspect of the project are you working on now?

Right now, in addition to continuing technical development—we have several ideas of how to further improve our device—we are making an intensive effort on the business side, looking into how best to leverage our resources to continue development and eventually bring this product to market. Specifically, this includes looking into different sources of funding and talking to as many people as possible to get advice from those who have been in our shoes before. We very much welcome input from the MIT community and anyone with experience and advice.

Go to the Wristify website to track the media buzz about this idea or contact the team.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Emil M Friedman November 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Does the device, in essence, fool the body’s temperature sensing mechanism. Could it lead to overheating or overcooling?

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Barry Levine November 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I gather that applying small amounts of warmth or coolth (yes there is such a word) to the artery at the wrist (hence slightly warming or cooling the blood) is sufficient to improve comfort levels in response to minor ambient temperature shifts. But I wonder if well-insulated wrist and perhaps forearm cuffs would be similarly helpful – at least in winter – for us chillier folks. Of course, if one wants to insulate an artery that’s close to the surface, how about the carotids. A turtle-neck dickey might be just the thing.

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