MIT Wristband, 'The Wristify,' Heats And Cools The Body: Could It Replace Your Air Conditioner?

By Josh Lieberman on October 31, 2013 1:19 PM EDT

wristify
The Wristify sends hot or cold pulses to the wrist to warm or cool a person. The MIT creators of the Wristify recently won a $10,000 prize for their prototype. (Photo: MIT / Facebook)

A team of MIT engineering students has come up with a novel device to heat or cool the human body. Called the Wristify, the thermoelectric wristband monitors the temperature of the wearer and the air temperature, then sends a warming or cooling pulse. Although the temperature pulse is focused on only a small part of skin, it makes the wearer feel like they're hotter or colder, even if it's mostly mental.

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"The human body and human skin is not like a thermometer," Sam Shames, one of the Wristify creators, told Wired. "If I put something cold directly on your body at a constant temperature, the body acclimates and no longer perceives it as cold." As Wired explained, the Wristify is constantly "tricking" your body into thinking its cold, like jumping into a freezing lake over and over. 

The MIT team says that the goal of the Wristify is not only to aid in personal comfort, but to reduce the massive amounts of energy consumed by heating and cooling buildings.

"Buildings right now use an incredible amount of energy just in space heating and cooling," said Shames. "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."

Environmental concerns aside, the savings from using such a device could be massive. Currently in prototype, the Wristify is made up of only about $50 in parts you could buy at RadioShack or off of Amazon. While the Wristify may not be enough to keep you cool in your home on a 100 degree day, it could allow you to run your air conditioning less frequently, without having to set it to deep-freeze temperatures. The Wristify team estimates that if a building adjusts its thermostat by about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it can save 100 kilowatt-hours every month. (The average U.S. home uses 940 kilowatt-hours every month.)

Considering that 87 percent of U.S. homes use air conditioning, the Wristify could spell a massive lowering of many Americans' electrical bills. U.S. homes spend $241 billion on energy every year, or about $2,100 per household. 

Before it makes it to market, though, the Wristify's creators realize they have to make the thing look not so hideous.

"We've been thinking long and hard about the next best steps to pursue," Shames told Wired. "One thing we're really conscious about is the aesthetics of our device. It has to look good and it has to be comfortable."

The Wristify recently won first place at MADMEC, MIT's annual materials-science design competition. The Wristify creators say they'll use the $10,000 prize to further develop their prototype. 

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