HabitAware Awarded Competitive Grant from the National Science Foundation to Improve Smart Bracelet Technology for Mental Health

HabitAware Awarded Competitive Grant from the National Science Foundation to Improve Smart Bracelet Technology for Mental Health

Minneapolis, MN / 2019 --

HabitAware has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $224,795 to conduct research and development (R&D) work that has the potential to improve their real-time awareness solution for those who suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). This is the second SBIR research grant awarded to HabitAware, the first being through the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Over 4% of Americans, and more than 180 million people worldwide, suffer from BFRBs. These behaviors include compulsive skin picking (dermatillomania), hair pulling (trichotillomania), and chronic nail biting (onychophagia). The majority tend to resort to covering up the problem with makeup, gloves, wigs, and even tattoos due to treatment cost barriers and lack of effective tools to facilitate behavior change. While behavior therapy, and in particular habit reversal training, has shown efficacy, this method is traditionally burdened by unreliable self-journaling, a lack of access to treatment, and difficulty for patients to perform the treatment in real-time because of a lack of awareness.

Through this research grant, HabitAware will design and test a novel wearable sensing system with new sensor technologies that can detect subtle movements associated with body-focused repetitive behaviors and can significantly improve detection accuracy of BFRB-related behaviors.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria. “NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.” 

The study will seek to improve upon HabitAware’s publicly available awareness bracelet, Keen. Keen uses patented gesture detection technology to allow a user to train the Keen bracelet by performing the exact behavior they want to reduce (e.g. hair pulling). Keen continuously monitors the user's wrist movements, vibrating when it detects the trained behavior. The gentle vibration interrupts the behavior pattern, creating awareness of restless hand movements and allowing the user to make healthier choices to cope with stress, anxiety, boredom or other triggers. With awareness, and a willingness to change, an individual suffering from BFRBs finally has the power to take control as the vibration of the bracelet in real-time allows one to break free of the compulsion to pull their hair or pick their skin or bite their nails.

Through the study, HabitAware will introduce new sensor technologies suitable for mass production that will improve the gesture detection performance of the bracelet and widen its capabilities. To accomplish this, HabitAware research team will collaborate with sensor specialists and electronics manufacturers. The research has the potential to greatly improve the accuracy of current state-of-the-art consumer offerings and provide new solutions to underserved BFRB populations.

This project has the potential to be a game-changing innovation for those suffering from these under-addressed disorders. HabitAware is proud to support the BFRB community and excited to embark on this work,” shared Dr. John Pritchard, HabitAware’s Lead Hardware Engineer and research grant Principal Investigator (PI).

About HabitAware: HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet to help manage trichotillomania (hair pulling), dermatillomania (skin picking), onychophagia (nail biting) and other compulsive behaviors. Keen allows users to retrain their brain by vibrating whenever it detects a specific trained behavior. The vibration interrupts the behavior, brings the user into awareness and allows them to make healthier choices. To learn more visit: www.habitaware.com

About the National Science Foundation's Small Business Programs: America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.5 million in non-dilutive funds to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. To learn more about America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, visit: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/

Once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant (up to $225,000), it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant (up to $750,000). Small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales. NSF accepts Phase I proposals from small businesses twice annually in June and December. Small businesses with innovative science and technology solutions, and commercial potential are encouraged to apply. All proposals submitted to the NSF SBIR/STTR program, also known as America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, undergo a rigorous merit-based review process. Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1914175. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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