A team of MIT engineers have devised a personal thermostat that can cool down or warm up a person simply by being in constant contact with the user's wrist.
The "personal thermostat" resembles a smartwatch and is made of materials that change temperature when an electrical current is applied to it. It is designed to be worn on the wrist, which according to an MIT report, is one of the most thermally sensitive parts of the human body.
The wrist is also the most comfortable spot where a person would be willing to try out new technology, notes the report.
When warmth is needed, the band will make the user feel like they are holding a cup of warm coffee and when cooling is required it makes users feel like they have dipped their feet in a pool of water, says the report.
The wristband has a thermoelectric tile that is in direct contact with the skin. When heating is required, a current is passed to the tile and it creates heat waves, making the wearer feel warm. When cooling is needed, the device dissipates heat through its aluminium body which works as a heat sink, according to the report. The controls are through a colour-coded interface with blue for cooling and red for heating.
David Cohen-Tanugi, an MIT scholar who has co-founded Embr Labs, says that they aim to make "temperature personal," adding, "We want people who are often uncomfortable and have little control over temperature to have more control and more relief in everyday life."
The device, which started as an MIT project 4 years ago, is now getting ready for production.
Speaking about the idea, the researchers say this came to them when they were still scholars at MIT. "We were using all this energy cooling this lab space that was mostly empty, and we were actually uncomfortably cold," says one of the engineers, which left them wondering, "What if we could heat and cool people directly to make everyone more comfortable and save energy?"
This led them to work with thermal comfort which, according to the report, comes down to extreme sensations in different parts of the body. For example, your face or hands may feel warmer than the rest of body when you're too warm. Similarly, you may feel colder in your toes or fingers when you're cold.
And, the team decided to reverse the concept to create the wristband.
Makers of the product have said that this device could possibly reduce energy usage in buildings. The report quoted a study by the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California at Berkeley where they found that if a building's thermostat neutral zone –temperature before heating or cooling sets in– is extended by just a degree, energy consumption drops by 10%.
Researchers say that this band is effective enough to extend this neutral zone and keep wearers comfortable. According to the report, the product now called Embr Wave is set to debut next year.