New AI Wearable Aims To Fight Coronavirus By Preventing Face-Touching

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, three Seattle entrepreneurs have created a wristband that vibrates when the person wearing it goes to touch their face, artificial intelligence (AI) startup Immutouch announced on Tuesday (March 10).

Along with hand-washing, medical professionals are advising the public to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth during the worldwide outbreak. Since the virus first surfaced at the end of December, 116,400 people have been infected in at least 103 countries, according to official counts. As of Tuesday morning (March 10), some 4,082 people with the disease have died. All but 946 are in mainland China.

“The Immutouch wearable vibrates when the user’s hand enters a precalibrated position, such as near the mouth, nose or eyes. Instantaneous alerts can provide immediate intervention for habitual touchers, while vigilant users can refine good habits over time,” a press release from the company said.

Co-founders of the company – brothers Matthew Toles and Joseph Toles and their friend Justin Ith – were motivated to develop a tool after someone died of the virus a few miles from their Seattle homes. There are at least 162 confirmed cases in the state of Washington and 22 deaths there, 20 of which are in Kings County in Seattle.

“A problem the size of COVID-19 requires everyone to do their part, large or small,” said Matthew Toles, 28, the company’s CEO. “The three of us happened to be uniquely well-equipped to tackle this one task and felt it was our duty to at least try.”

The trio tapped designs from a previous project and were able to launch the Immutouch wearable in just seven days.

This isn’t the first wearable for the entrepreneurs. In 2015, they founded Slightly Robot and developed a device similar to Immutouch that was geared toward reducing compulsive skin picking, nail-biting and hair-pulling, also known as trichotillomania.

“Both wearables use gravimetric hand position, meaning assets like the existing inventory of printed circuit boards and portions of the codebase could be repurposed for the new device,” according to the release. “This technological cannibalism enabled the breakneck pace of development necessary to help combat COVID-19 while there is still time. It typically takes over a year to bring a product to market. Immutouch took 1/50th of that time.”

Amazon told employees in Seattle, Bellevue and the San Francisco Bay area to telecommute if possible through the end of March. The eCommerce giant is also offering a more flexible attendance policy for warehouse workers and other staff.