Co.Design

Almost Genius: Robotic Arm Cuff Works Like a Wearable Therapist

Meet Ref, a cross between a puppy and prozac — that your strap onto your wrist.

Fire your shrink. Jens Dyvik, a freelance designer in Holland, has created a therapeutic robot that provides more intimate psychological coddling than you ever knew you needed. That's because you wear it.

Ref is a haptic creature that straps onto your wrist and twists, curls, and nuzzles against your skin in response to changes in your pulse. The movements are designed to soothe, to "help people become familiar with their emotional world," Dyvik says and, by extension, calm their demons. Would something like this work? Well, the simple act of being more aware of your emotions and stress levels has a long history in psychology and even Buddhism — it's the main tenet behind both Cognitive Behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation. Once you know you're having negative emotions, they become far easier to fix. Dyvik has details:

When the users mind balancing capabilities progress, Ref's behaviour changes from alert and coaching to relaxed and playful. If the user is stressed, its head is raised and its tail straight. If the user is in balance, its head rests on the users arm and its tail curls up. ? Ref can also coach the user in practising a mind balancing breathing pattern. Ref's wings makes a wavelike touch sensation up the users arm for an inhale cue, and down the arm for an exhale cue.

[Prototypes]

Which sounds great and everything, but man, why does the thing have to look like a murderous scorpion? (That tail, yikes!) We imagine this is what you'd end up with if David Cronenberg got into the therapy business.

[I eat babies for breakfast!]

And that's where the robot misfires. Dyvik says Ref could be used as a self-help tool or to supplement meditation or yoga practice. But a lot of people might think it's just too damned scary to be of any therapeutic value. Consider Paro, an eminently cuddly robotic seal developed in Japan and given to elderly people, who can't care for real pets, as a furry companion. Paro's appeal is largely that it's a cute, fluffy seal. Obviously, Ref doesn't need to look like that. But some sort of makeover — whether more or less animal-like — is in order. Frankly, we'd love to see Dyvik play up Ref's abstract qualities — maybe turn it into a bracelet that just happens to work like a whole bottle of prozac.

Dyvik showed a working prototype of Ref at the Design Academy Eindhoven graduation show in October. For more info, visit his Web site here.

[Images courtesy of Jens Dyvik]

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