Smart wearable tech is hot these days. You probably own some sort of fitness tracker, or if you don’t, you surely know at least a few people who do. Smartwatches and Apple Watches adorn many a wrist, and there are even a handful of wearable devices that guide users through meditation exercises. Now, Lief Therapeutics, a tech company out of San Francisco, is developing a wearable that aims to help wearers reduce their stress levels and enjoy better moods.
Called Lief (and pronounced like the greenery on a tree), the device is worn discreetly as a patch on the torso. Yes, a patch! It’s sort of the same idea as the nicotine patches that smokers wear to quit, only the Lief doesn’t release any substances into your body through your skin, and it’s not disposable (unless you like tossing several hundred dollars in the trash).
But wait — does the Lief smart patch offer any real benefits, or is this another pricey novelty item that will be relegated to the bottom of a drawer in six months? Is it worth the current pre-order price of close to $200? And do you really need one? Let’s take a closer look.
What Lief Can Do
The Lief smart patch has been in the works since 2014, and it’s taken a lot of development and several prototypes by Lief Therapeutics to get to where it is today: on Kickstarter as a favorite and successful project, getting ready to go into production in a few months. It’s an electrocardiogram, or ECG, sensor, and it’s also a three axis accelerometer. Thanks to these two small but crucial pieces of technology, Lief can track your heart rate variability (HRV), heart beats per minute (BPM), breathing rate and consistency, moods, movement, and downtime. There’s also a place in the Lief’s corresponding app to record your thoughts, so you can start to see patterns and make connections between your physical reactions and your emotional ones.
What’s special about Lief is that it’s more accurate and more reliable than an ordinary wrist based heart rate monitor, like the one you’d find on an Apple Watch or a higher end fitness tracker. It’s also better than the ultra accurate chest strap heart rate monitors that serious athletes use for zone training. This is because it uses technology that’s similar to what your doctor might use when he or she is doing an ECG (or EKG) test on a patient. In fact, Lief can even pick up cardiac irregularities, such as arrthythmias, though the company is quick to point out that Lief is not a medical device and should not be relied on as such. Plus, Lief is smart, so it syncs with an app on your iOS or Android smartphone to aggregate all of your personal data.
The patch itself is totally discreet; you wear it under your clothes, and unless someone is feeling your torso intently, no one will ever know you’re wearing it. When it senses that you’re stressed out or need a mental break, it will vibrate. Then, it will vibrate in rhythm to help you focus on your breathing and calm your mind and body. There’s no need to look at your phone for what to do; just exhale when the patch gently vibrates. Four different breathing exercises are included with the Lief: one to help you better control your heartbeat, one to help you become calmer, one to relax your mental state, and one to reinforce all of these techniques.
Is this an effective way to calm down? Well, Lief claims that one of their three minute biofeedback breathing exercises can lead to a 140% improvement in HRV. If you’re skeptical, you can check your phone later for exact numbers — everything’s stored in the app, which is colorful and intuitive, with helpful graphs and charts of your data so you can see your progress.
Lief is made of medical grade silicone, and it transfers all of your information to the app via BlueTooth LE. If you’re not in close proximity to your phone, though, there’s no need to worry: the device’s 64MB of onboard storage can hold up to a week’s worth of data before you need to port it over to the app. It charges using a micro USB cable. You’ll need about an hour to go from no charge to fully charged, and you should be able to go a week between charging sessions.
Pros and Cons
The Lief is super thin, at just over six millimeters. There are no straps on it; it just attaches to the body with stickers, much like a doctor would use with an in-office ECG test. You do have to wonder how comfortable this device is for all day wear, especially on hot days, and especially for men with hair on their chests. (It could hurt to take off, so is a regular manscaping routine necessary for some men who want to wear a Lief?) Plus, after using the Lief for some time, do people learn how to regulate their breathing and stress levels on their own? Is there a point where the Lief is no longer needed for self-calming?
Answers to all of these questions remain to be seen; the product has had minimal usage so far. However, the upside is that the Lief is one of the few smart products on the market that earnestly addresses the issue of stress in our society. Let’s face it: we’re all stressed, and many of us live with serious bouts of anxiety. It’s not something that most of us are personally equipped to deal with — we need a little assistance. Lief is a product that can genuinely help us reduce our excess stress, just like a fitness tracker can help us reduce our excess weight. From what we can tell, this product does not look like a novelty. Instead, it looks like a real aid to help people live better lives.
The Brains Behind Lief
For now, Lief is the main product of Lief Therapeutics, which is, like many tech startups, based in San Francisco, California. The founders are Rohan Dixit and Nathanael Wolfe. Dixit is a neuroscientist who has held neurology and biomedical imaging research positions at both Stanford and Harvard to study how meditation affects the human brain. Wolfe is a designer and an RIT grad who specializes in product design. In 2009 and 2010, before Lief was even thought of as a product, Dixit and Wolfe spent a year in the Himalayas with Tibetan monks measuring their heart beats and brainwaves.
Interested in Lief?
Lief is in its final stages of development, and the company recently launched its Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $50,000. As of this writing, they’ve surpassed the $100,000 mark with almost a month to go. Clearly, this is a product that people want! Testers in San Francisco are helping the company work out the kinks, and units are projected to ship in June 2017.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering now, you can do so at the Lief Kickstarter page. The super early bird price of $159 is long sold out, and the regular early bird price of $179 is almost gone too. The next level is $199, which is a lot, but not nearly as much as the expected retail price of $299, which is what you’ll pay after the product is available to the general public. If Lief sounds like a wearable that will help you life a more relaxed, stress-free life, we recommend pre-ordering soon before the price goes up.