UBC Sauder-supported Awake Labs uses wearable tech to help people manage anxiety

Posted 2019-04-30

Awake Labs, a company formed out of UBC Sauder’s New Venture Design (NVD) class by two UBC engineering graduates – Paul Fijal and Andrea Palmer - recently launched a pilot program to help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities manage their anxiety in partnership with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and Community Living Windsor (CLW).

“The technology used in the pilot combines the Anxiety Meter and Reveal Stories,” said Fijal. “The Anxiety Meter is an algorithm developed by a team of scientists at Holland Bloorview which measures a user’s heart rate and detects changes that could indicate anxiety. Reveal Stories is a free care-coordination app developed by Awake Labs. It allows care teams to share information, set goals, and track progress.”

According to Fijal, the target users for the new technology are supported living organizations for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  “Care teams at CLW receive the user’s heart rate and an anxiety score on an app.” explained Fijal. “If the app indicates a rise in anxiety, care teams can use different techniques like mindfulness to help participants before anxiety intensifies.”

Although the program is at an early stage, Fijal says the response has been positive.

“Our goal for the pilot is to help people manage their anxiety so they can enjoy their lives more,” said Fijal.

Right from the outset in developing Awake Labs during their New Venture Design class, a course that pairs senior engineering and business students to create and market new innovations - Fijal and Palmer aimed to deliver a product with a strong social impact. “It’s the main goal that brought us together. We were also very interested in solutions that would help reduce people’s stress and anxiety.”

“They were passionate about their course and committed to finding a solution even when they came across the inevitable difficulties,” said Paul Cubbon - Lecturer, Marketing and Behavioural Science Division - who taught the NVD course.

Awake Labs is still strongly connected to UBC Sauder. Fijal appreciates that Cubbon and Adjunct Professor Blaire Simonite – who also taught NVD – still provide Awake Labs with advice and support. He said that the company still implements a lot of what was taught in the course, which has been extremely helpful.

“We’ve also had co-op students and interns who have have come from UBC Sauder and that’s always been a very positive experience too,” said Fijal.

Lita, a participant in the pilot project, poses with (from left to right) Andrea Palmer, CEO of Awake Labs; Zahra Shams Shoaei, the research coordinator; and Paul Fijal, the chief product officer. (Credit: Jillian Hotson)