The fitness bands we know today have all been built around positive reinforcement. From glowing animations to congratulatory messaging when you hit goals and milestones, Fitbits, Nike+ Fuelbands, and the Jawbone Up are drenched in cheerful celebration of your accomplishments.
But if existing fitness bands are designed like overzealous kindergarten teachers, then the Pavlok is a drill sergeant. The band—$150 on preorder today—will quite literally shock you to wake up on time or exercise when you should.
Like any fitness band you know, the Pavlok is a rubbery bracelet, not unlike the old Fitbit Flex, that uses Bluetooth to connect an app on your phone. But more than just an accelerometer-based activity tracker, it has a simple shock circuit built in which takes commands from its companion smartphone app. You set up a criteria for when the Pavlok should shock you, and it will torture you accordingly.
“I'm severely ADHD and if left to my own devices I tend to achieve nothing,” explains Pavlek founder Maneesh Sethi. “There are specific tactics which motivate me. Bets, deadlines, and accountability are requirements. I build systems to automate things that I don't naturally do.”
The static-based jolt isn’t dangerous, but it should be as annoying as touching a metal door handle in the winter. Even still, we’ll admit that at first glance, we mistook the Pavlok for a practical joke. But Sethi, who you might call an efficiency expert by trade, insists it’s a “legitimate project with a massive vision to change habits in multiple sectors.” And indeed, at his Boston hardware studio, Sethi is working with Jim Lynch, the original inventor of the Lego Mindstorms robot and senior engineer on the Roomba to ship Pavlok in 2015. A Kickstarter campaign will be coming this September. And they plan to open up the electrical punishment to developers everywhere by allowing them to develop their own apps for Pavlok.
There’s just one catch to Pavlok’s approach, of course. Scientific arguments about the merits of positive vs negative reinforcement aside, if someone finds they want to avoid the shock, they might not get up earlier in the morning. They might just take that *zap* painful *zap* Pavlok off. Because if I really wanted to put my body through torture, I’d have just gotten up at 5 a.m. and gone for that run in the first place.