Tiny changes in skin temperature can affect the how hot or cold your entire body feels.
Four MIT engineering students have developed a thermoelectric bracelet called “Wristify” that directs pulses of hot or cold waveforms at your wrist to help you maintain a comfortable body temperature. The design was even good enough to take home the top prize of $10,000 at MIT’s annual materials engineering competition.
The design is currently a working prototype and would more than likely start its commercial life as a personal comfort device. Its designers have grander ambitions than that however, hoping that it could significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings by cooling the individual, as opposed to the entire structure.
Sam Shames, one of the inventors, spoke about the potential of such a device on MIT’s website:
Buildings right now use an incredible amount of energy just in space heating and cooling. In fact, all together this makes up 16.5 percent of all U.S. primary energy consumption. We wanted to reduce that number, while maintaining individual thermal comfort.
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The primary aim of the competition is for students to apply classroom knowledge and get their hands dirty building functional prototypes in the school’s labs. Many of the designs tackle problems related to energy, habitat, and sustainability, with some teams continuing to develop their ideas until they are market-ready.
During their development, the team came across one key discovery, that human skin is very sensitive to minute, rapid changes in temperature, which affect the entire body. They only had to heat someone’s wrist at a rate of 0.1°C (32.18°F) per second in order to make the entire body feel several degrees warmer or colder.
After 15 prototypes, the team landed on its final product, which resembles a wristwatch and can be powered, for up to eight hours, by a lithium polymer battery. This prototype demonstrated a rate of change of up to 0.4°C per second, which they hope to improve using their recently acquired prize money.