- Researchers developed a bra prototype with sensors to monitor a woman's emotional state
- The bra could send alerts to the wearer's phone to combat overeating
- Microsoft says it has no plans to make the bra into a commercial product
It's no longer enough to have smartphones, smartwatches, smart TVs and smart cars. Now a tech company is bringing artificial intelligence to lingerie.
Researchers at Microsoft have developed a prototype of a "smart bra" embedded with physiological sensors that seek to monitor a woman's heart activity to track her emotional moods and combat overeating. The sensors can signal the wearer's smartphone, which then flash a warning message to help her step away from the fridge and make better diet decisions.
The company says it has no plans to make the bra into a commercial product, however.
So -- why a bra, exactly?
"First, we needed a form factor that would be comfortable when worn for long durations," said scientists in a research paper published online. "The bra form factor was ideal because it allowed us to collect (electrocardiogram data) near the heart."
Research has shown that many people reach for calorie-rich foods like doughnuts when they're feeling stressed, bored, discouraged or on edge. There's a reason it's called comfort food.
For the research paper, scientists from Microsoft, the University of Rochester and the University of Southampton in the UK interviewed women who said that interventions -- being alerted to their emotional states -- helped them identify triggers for binge eating.
The researchers then conducted a study in which four women wore the sensors in their bras for four days to monitor their vital signs. An electrocardiogram (EKG) sensor under the arm measured their heart rate, while an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor tracked their perspiration.
The researchers determined the bra was mostly effective in detecting its wearer's emotional changes. But the sensors needed to be recharged every three to four hours, which limited how long the bra could be worn. And more research would be needed before a smart brassiere -- Microsoft's Secret, anyone? -- ever became a viable product.
A Microsoft spokesperson downplayed the bra's significance in an e-mail to CNN.
"The bra sensing system is just one instance of a class of work from a group of Microsoft researchers that is focused on the broader topic of affective computing, or designing devices and services that are sensitive to people's moods and react accordingly," the spokesperson said.
"While we will continue our research in affective computing, Microsoft has no plans to develop a bra with sensors."
What about a similar undergarment for men? Researchers didn't rule it out.
"We will continue to explore how to build a robust, real-world system that stands up to everyday challenges with regards to battery life, comfortability, and being suitable for both men and women," the researchers said in the paper.
Reaction to the bra on Twitter ranged from amusement to annoyance.
"Anyone else offended that Microsoft is devoting its tech research to a bra designed to prevent women from overeating?" tweeted a Seattle woman whose Twitter handle is @cunningminx.
Added Rachel Happe of Boston, "If nothing else convinces you we need more women in tech, this should. No, I don't want someone hacking my bra..."