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Wearable Tech Gets Emotional

London-based studio Vinaya's minimalist Zenta bracelet goes beyond tracking activity

by Nara Shin
on 01 June 2016

London-based tech design studio and lab Vinaya wants wearables to make us feel more human and less hamster. For its debut line Altruis, they developed luxe—albeit still bulky—jewelry in iPhone-evoking colors that vibrates different patterns under specific conditions you set: a call from mom, emails from your team, texts from a potential date, a personal alarm, etc. All with the goal to focus on the person across the meeting or dinner table, rather than succumbing to the engrained habit of glancing at your smartphone. Vinaya's next project, Zenta, takes Altruis' minimalist look and function but goes many steps further in capabilities. The bracelet is a clear-cut activity and sleep tracker that will also gauge emotional states. It's up to you, however, to make the lifestyle adjustments after learning your behavior patterns, stress triggers and more.

Sensors include heart rate, heart rate variability, electrodermal activity, blood oxygen levels, respiration, skin temperature and more. Vinaya will use outside information (prepare to cough up social media, calendar, location data, etc.) including manual prompts to approximate your emotional state. Some of the testimonials (they could just be hypothetical examples) featured in their just-launched Indiegogo campaign portray Zenta more as a therapist rather than a cold piece of wearable technology. Most of the work involves tracking routines and analyzing what time of day you slump, your stress triggers, what activities improve mood—using that info to restructure schedules, filter out notifications, do more yoga, etc. The bracelet can even initiate mindfulness exercises, by vibrating along with your heart beat and prodding you to breathe in sync. If step and calorie numbers of other basic fitness trackers are more likely to make you slave to the machine, Zenta brings more sense of control back to the wearer through an understanding of context.

The app will have its fair share of graphs, but one of Zenta's most distinctive features will be the ability to generate "biometric art" based on emotions and share them. "We wanted people to have a new language to communicate how they feel," founder and CEO Kate Unsworth explains to CH. "You know you have those moments where you feel so inspired or stressed out or frustrated and we don't quite have that language to explain it? Well, the idea here is that you can show somebody." GIFs and emoji have already become a seamless additional layer to the way we communicate.

"A friend texted me that she just got engaged," Unsworth recalls. "I tried to call her and couldn't get through; I was crying, trying to convey my excitement in a text. And I found myself typing 'EEEEEEE' and emojis—and this was just devaluing everything that I feel. Sending pixels back and forth on a screen doesn't do it justice. So it got me thinking, how can we communicate how we feel? Emotions are so complex. For me, it has to be visual—colors, shapes, rhythms, patterns tell such an amazing story. My heart was beating: all I wanted to be able to do was capture that and send it to her."

To guide Zenta's algorithms in generating the most resonating portal-like visuals from your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, perspiration, respiration and more, Vinaya tapped NYC-based painter Betty Kay, whose work Unsworth describes as "solar systems from another Universe." Different colors will reflect different emotional states; color density and shapes/strokes also indicate, respectively, strength of the emotion and state of being. This has the novelty (and perhaps frivolousness) of '90s mood rings, but paired with a powerful algorithm, there's interesting uses beyond playfully sending your younger brother proof that he's stressing you out. You could start organizing your music library by mood and visuals, and create playlists based on personal feelings rather than browsing Spotify's generic-style "Best Day Ever" and "Happy Hits!"

Zenta launches on Indiegogo with an early bird pricing of $119 with sport band (expected retail will be $249) and $149 with leather band. Have your friends save their engagement announcements until next year, though, as expected delivery is March 2017.

Images courtesy of Vinaya

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