Somaware: Visceral, Wearable Data
Why stop at just 5 senses? Eyes-free, ears-free, hands-free information that you feel.
The root word Soma means “of the body.” Some philosophers use the word to speak of the experience felt through our mind-body. Somaware was a startup I cofounded during grad school. The concept and technology evolved from a course project.
In short, the Somaware band was worn around the neck and was both aware of its orientation in space and able to deliver tactile pulses to the skin. Because the band knew where you were looking, the pulses were situated towards the real world around you. By virtue of its placement on the neck it could also monitor heart rate and other biometrics.
Remarkably, this form factor was capable of delivering a greater diversity and far more information than one might think — from navigation to time and more.
The concept melded several key ideas:
Contrary to popular notions, humans have more than only five senses. Our sense of balance, direction, temperature, time, hunger, and more are all examples.
Our sensory system is malleable in that it can learn to incorporate new stimulus and produce new awareness of our relationship to our surroundings.
The neck area is a unique place on the body for a wearable technology:
It gives easy and compact access to a 360° “compass” mapping around the body
It’s close to the locus of our awareness we experience within our heads
It’s typically free of clothing and readily exposes skin for tactile stimulation
I built the original proof-of-concept device and conducted user experience discovery trials with potential users — both blind and sighted.
The prototype device required multiple iterations to arrive at a workable neck-worn shape. The prototype band included reposition-able haptic motors, Bluetooth, and an accelerometer + gyroscope + compass module. The device was controlled with a custom app on an Android smartphone.
I entered the technology in a student entrepreneurial competition and won third prize. This yielded my future cofounder and I an invitation to NYU’s Lean Launchpad program. We were selected to participate and secured $10,000 in funding as well as a summer of training. It was through this program that the company Somaware was born.
During the Lean Launchpad program we interviewed over fifty potential customers, conducted market research, and refined our business in countless iterations.
Ultimately, we learned that our concept and technology made the leap to market much too soon. The concept was intriguing and full of potential applications but would have been best served first as a full research project rather than a nascent business.
Having come to realize where we were in the arc of development we pursued grant money to fund the needed R&D. We failed to secure that funding and were not in life positions to push ahead further.
While we shut down the company, our efforts did result in an NYU-sponsored patent and a whole lot of learning.