It’s no longer enough to have smartphones, smartwatches, smart TVs and smart cars. Now a tech company wants to bring artificial intelligence to lingerie.
Researchers at Microsoft are developing a “smart bra” embedded with physiological sensors that would monitor a woman’s heart activity to track her emotional moods and combat overeating. The sensors would signal the wearer’s smartphone, which would flash a warning message to help her step away from the fridge and make better diet decisions.
So — why a bra, exactly?
“First, we needed a form factor that would be comfortable when worn for long durations,” said scientists in a research paper published online. “The bra form factor was ideal because it allowed us to collect (electrocardiogram data) near the heart.”
Research has shown that many people reach for calorie-rich foods like doughnuts when they’re feeling stressed, bored, discouraged or on edge. There’s a reason it’s called comfort food.
For the research paper, scientists from Microsoft, the University of Rochester and the University of Southampton in the UK interviewed women who said that interventions — being alerted to their emotional states — helped them identify triggers for binge eating.
The researchers then conducted a study in which four women wore the sensors in their bras for four days to monitor their vital signs. An electrocardiogram (EKG) sensor under the arm measured their heart rate, while an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor tracked their perspiration.
More research is needed before a smart brassiere — Microsoft’s Secret, anyone? — ever becomes a viable product. The sensors needed to be recharged every three to four hours, which limited how long the bra could be worn.
But the researchers determined the bra was mostly effective in detecting its wearer’s emotional changes and, potentially, helping her eat less.
And in the future, men may not be left out.
“We will continue to explore how to build a robust, real-world system that stands up to everyday challenges with regards to battery life, comfortability, and being suitable for both men and women,” the researchers said.
Reaction to the bra on Twitter ranged from amusement to annoyance.
“Anyone else offended that Microsoft is devoting its tech research to a bra designed to prevent women from overeating?” tweeted a Seattle woman whose Twitter handle is @cunningminx.
Added Rachel Happe of Boston, “If nothing else convinces you we need more women in tech, this should. No, I don’t want someone hacking my bra…”