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Empatica partners with government's DRIVe on lung infection-dectecting smartwatch

Alyssa Clementi

Health-focused smartwatch maker Empatica is partnering with the US government's BARDA Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures (DRIVe), to create a new smartwatch that will be able to detect when a user is developing a serious respiratory infection prior to experiencing any symptoms. Empatica and DRIVe, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are aiming to use the technology to prevent or reduce a future flu epidemic.

Empatica plans on basing the new device off of the already available FDA-cleared Embrace2 smartwatch and compatible app, which is used by epileptics to predict seizures and alert designated caregivers if a problem arises. Using machine learning, the Embrace2 can monitor physiological signals and patterns, and can warn the user and caregivers if a possible convulsive seizure is coming.

"Our team is very honored to support this ambitious project: it's a great opportunity to produce novel science and products to potentially help millions of patients in the US and around the world. It is also a sign of inspired leadership by DRIVe's team, with its deliberate vision to support technology at the service of better healthcare,” said Matteo Lai, Empatica CEO and co-founder.

Empatica’s new sickness detecting smartwatch is part of DRIVe’s Early Notification to Act Control and Treat (ENACT) portfolio and will alert the wearer if they have been exposed to dangerous pathogens or any signs of a respiratory tract infection have been logged. Early detection will hopefully lessen the potential of spreading a highly infectious sickness like the flu.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, around 1.25m people in the U.S are hospitalized every year as a result of community-acquired respiratory tract infections, and their care costs amount to more than $4bn.

Empatica co-founder, chief scientist, and MIT professor Rosalind Picard said: “Imagine if your future smartwatch could tell you your body is fighting sickness before you have any obvious symptoms— and that if you go to sleep two hours early tonight and drink a special beverage you would have 70 per cent less chance of coming down with the flu tomorrow — how would your life be improved? Multiply that by 49m people in the U.S. who had influenza in 2018 — how would our world be improved?”