"When do we get drowsy when we don't want to be?" asks Jason Gui, co-founder and CTO of startup company Vigo. Well, I can think of tons of times where I may have accidentally nodded off a bit when I shouldn't have, which resulted in missing important information or subjecting myself to embarrassment (sorry, strangers sitting next to me on MUNI).
Inconvenient sleepiness--the kind that hits you when you're driving home at the end of the day, or during an entirely-too-long earnings call--is what Vigo has called to battle.
This new wearable device, also called Vigo, is available for pre-order through Kickstarter. It tracks your eye movement and gives you a gentle nudge when it thinks you're getting too sleepy, recording your alertness and putting you back on track when you start to lose focus. The compact Vigo is only a little longer than your average Bluetooth headset, and you can use it to answer calls as well, with a comfortable earbud to keep it in place.
Despite one of the co-founders suggesting you can use Vigo to stay awake during a boring date (which, seriously guys, is probably one of the rudest, most insulting things you could possibly do--I'm embarrassed that I even need to point that out for you), this technology is a shining example of how a wearable device can quantify data and make it actionable.
Gui, along with other founders Drew Karabinos and Jonathan Kern, all met while attending college at the University of Pennsylvania. For their senior engineering project, they decided to tackle alertness, an issue that plagues all college students (and, really, everyone else). They built a module that detects blink-rate, percentage and duration of eye closure, and other regular blinking patterns; there's a quick calibration process where the module learns as much as it can about your eye movements. When your blinking patterns change, this signals that you might be getting sleepy, and the device will alert you in an attempt to wake you back up.
Vigo in its current form is definitely not something you'd wear all day, and Gui stressed that they'd like to find business partners and incorporate the blink-tracking module into other designs--perhaps in a pair of sunglasses, inside a construction helmet, or somewhere in a car. (Speaking of glasses, Vigo can be worn with most glasses already, as long as the frames and sides aren't too thick.) The Vigo team plans to experiment with makers from a variety of backgrounds to see how this technology could be applied.
But first, potential partners need to see what Vigo can do. After additional development and work with hardware incubator HAXLR8R, the team changed the design and added other functionality, eventually coming up with the Vigo prototype we have today. Vigo contains the blink tracking module, an accelerometer to detect head drooping, and a Bluetooth module that syncs with your smartphone. Currently, there's only one size, though it will be available in a few different colors.
"We can't build something for everyone right at launch, as there is no easy one-size fits all' model," said Gui, "but we did our best to make something as universal as possible, and we will definitely work on expandability." The team has also opened the app's API, so developers can add functionality and perhaps integrate Vigo with other apps.
In the meantime, Vigo has its own app, which wearers use to control Vigo's alert settings and track information. Vigo can nudge you in one of three ways: It will flash a light, vibrate, or play a song from your smartphone's library. You can pick the type of alert you want to get, and can customize the intensity based on your movements. For example, you can program a gentle buzz if your eyelids start to droop, and a blast of music if your head starts to nod.
Aside from the control settings, Vigo's app gathers info about your blinks and tells you which points of the day you tend to be the least alert. It then recommends ways for you to combat drowsiness before it even happens, like when to take a power nap, grab a cup of coffee, or go for a quick walk around the block. The idea is to use Vigo's data and take advantage of the points in your day when you are most alert.
"Vigo stands for vigor," Gui told TechHive, "we want it to invigorate you and help get you back in the zone."
Vigo is available for pre-order through Kickstarter now, and is tentatively scheduled to ship to backers in May. It will be compatible with iOS and Android devices.