So far, the future of wearables has been framed mostly in the context of fitness, but what will it mean for those afflicted with lifelong medical issues? Dialog, a new concept by Seattle-based Artefact, imagines what the iWatch of epilepsy-management devices would look like: a patch-like wearable that connects to your smartphone and allows sufferers the ability to track, manage, and predict their seizures.
Why epilepsy? For starters, it's a big problem. The third most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer's disease and stroke, nearly 3 million people in the United States have it, and a good 50,000 die from epilepsy-related causes. And even when epilepsy isn't fatal, it has major psychological effects on people's lives.
"We were struck by how challenging it is to live with epilepsy," says Artefact's Matthew Jordan, the leader of the project. "The condition is complex, unpredictable, and misunderstood. The people we talked to told us again and again—they live in permanent anxiety, not knowing when a seizure will start and how that single event could change their life forever, both physically but also the relationships with the people around them."
While there are gadgets that help mitigate the dangers of epilepsy, these mostly take the form of alert bracelets and safety gear. With Dialog, Artefact wanted to create a platform that would not only help people better understand their condition but live with it as well.
Consisting of a small, quarter-sized wearable device connected via Bluetooth to a nearby smartphone app, Dialog can help epilepsy sufferers remember to take their medications, warn them about seizures before they happen, as well as alert friends, family, or caregivers when a seizure does happen. Connected apps help epileptics analyze where they have been and what they were doing when they had seizures, and instruct bystanders and responders what to do if they are discovered in the midst of an episode.
One particularly slick idea about Dialog is the interface. Featuring a UI based around natural interactions, Dialog allows patients to call for help with just a grasp of the wearable patch, which may be all they can do in the middle of a seizure. A double tap allows a patient to record an aura, which is the sensation many epilepsy sufferers feel before a seizure, allowing them to have time to prepare; the typical time between an aura and a seizure could then be measured. Just tracing a smiley or frownie can track current moods on the patch's display; vibrations alert users that it's time to take their medications.
Dialog is not a retail product, or likely to become one soon, but Artefact has taken pains to make sure that the individual technology components are practical, in that they are currently being developed, prototyped, and tested at industry labs and research universities worldwide. Jordan says that he thinks that the Dialog could become a practical retail product within two years—something Artefact would definitely like to see.
"Our goal with Dialog is to show that when you take a user-centered approach and apply design thinking and innovation to a complex medical problem, you can come up with an experience that is much more human-centered than what people with chronic conditions have access to today," Jordan says. "Whether designing a device or a service, we hope to inspire companies to pursue a much more human-centered approach in health care."