Wristfy- thermal comfort, reimagined


The first bracelet that heats or cools you.

Wristify is developed by a team of MIT-trained engineers who are using cutting-edge technology to revolutionize thermal comfort. I contacted Mike Gibson, a second year graduate student and asked him to answer the following questions:

Where did the idea of Wristfy come from, and what made you act?

The idea came from a couple of different places. My freshman year roommate was from a warmer climate.  I was always hot in the same room where he was cold. There had to be a way to personalize your thermal comfort without walking around with 3 different layers of clothing. Sam had a similar experience when at home with his mom. One day,as several of us were discussing the inefficiency of Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, we came to the conclusion that it’s time we started personally heating and cooling humans, rather than entire buildings. Of course, we’ve since realized that the even bigger application is giving people everywhere the ability to customize their thermal comfort through a wearable device. Luckily, the MADMEC prototyping competition was coming up.  So we were presented with the perfect opportunity to make thermal comfort into a reality.

What were the obstacles in your path, and how did you overcome them?

We faced a couple of obstacles, many of which turned out to be benedictions. The first was skepticism about our technical approach from our mentors. This spurred us to immediately start making and testing devices, so we could put them on people and get their real-life reactions. It was actually through getting our friends to wear this device and hearing their reactions that we were able to make what we consider our biggest breakthrough: pulsed cooling/heating seems to have a much greater effect on thermal comfort than constant temperature heating/cooling. Not only that, but the pulsed cooling/heating also uses less energy!

We then began to dig into the physiology and psychology of heat and its perception by the human body in order to see if this effect was already documented. Of course, this was another obstacle.  We’re all engineers, so we really needed to jump uninitiated into a new field’s literature. We found that a lot of the pieces were there.  No one had really come up with this idea yet. Now, we face another obstacle: as we begin to rigorously quantify this effect, we’re stepping way outside of our technical comfort zone, but stepping outside of your technical comfort zone is how you learn and grow.

What advice would you give those interested in inventing?

Our team found that the best way to make a product that people want is to iterate between creating technical embodiments and gathering feedback from potential users. You need to create a rough approximation to your initial idea.  Get some market feedback, and then go back and re-do your idea so that it matches your target market’s needs more closely. After a couple cycles of creation and user feedback, you start to converge on something.  That is what people want and need, but might not be very close to the original idea. Most people tell potential inventors to just go out there and start making their ideas into reality. That’s a really big part of invention, but the other half is getting feedback from potential users as you prototype to match people’s real needs more closely.

The ability to think laterally and combine ideas from different fields was also essential to our product’s development. We’re all materials scientists.  The real progress came from combining our materials knowledge with rapid prototyping skills more typical of mechanical engineers along with ideas from physiology and psychology. It’s a lot easier to combine ideas than it is to execute a process better than someone else. The big companies are really good at perfecting individual processes, so you probably won’t beat them at their game, but anyone can combine the right set of ideas to make something new.

Acknowledgments

We are greatly indebted to and passionate about the department and the competition. The team members are:
Mike Gibson (me), a second year graduate student.
Sam Shames, a senior.
David Cohen-Tanugi, a fourth year PhD student.
Matt Smith, a postdoctoral researcher.
We’re all in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering

We at InventionStories.com wish to thank MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the department’s MADMEC competition in particular for their participation in the article.

For more information, please visit http://www.embrlabs.com/

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Wristfy- thermal comfort, reimagined

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