Advance human wellbeing by developing new ways to communicate, understand, and respond to emotion

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do I get the wearable sensor you developed?

    The sensors developed initially at MIT have been improved upon and commercialized by the super team at Empatica.

    Full disclosure: Picard is a shareholder and co-founder of Empatica.

    Empatica sells a wearable autonomic and activity sensor optimized for clinical and medical researchers, Empatica's E4.

    Empatica also makes a consumer-facing version of the sensor, which provides clinical quality data and alerts for grand mal seizures Embrace. Embrace recently became the first smart watch to get FDA cleared for use in Neurology. The watch also shows you your sleep, steps, and more.

    (Note that the above replaces the earlier "Q sensor". Here is a brief description of what happened to the Q Sensor.

  2. How can I find out more about the project...

    If you are a Media Lab Member, then please access the  member website pages . Members also have access to all our pre-publication work and should feel free to contact us directly for any details, software, etc.

    Whenever possible, we try to publish details about our work for the public, and list all of these on the AC Publications page. Years ago, Picard (with Profs. Pentland, Adelson, and Bobick) was part of the Vision and Modeling group, a computer vision research team, and together we amassed a large tech-report database including pdfs of all our published papers. All of our group's early papers have now been moved by Pentland to occupy the early numbers of his current group's tech report database.

  3. How do I get to be a graduate student or research assistant in your group?

    First, get into MIT. Most of our students come from MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences, while others have come from Health Sciences and Technology or Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. We are open to students from any department. We occasionally accept students from non-technical backgrounds (e.g., design/psychology/cognitive science) as long as you are willing to learn to create and build new things (software or hardware). You have to apply separately to each department at MIT in which you might want to work. MIT's Admissions information can guide you to the information for each department.

    While there are no special advantages for any group, we especially encourage female and minority applicants to apply. We also encourage anyone who "doesn't fit" in the usual places. We are always looking for ways to expand the diverse viewpoints in our group, which gives us strength in thinking outside the box. If you have a tendency to underestimate your abilities, please set aside your doubt and take the risk to apply. If there is a hardship paying the application fee let us know and we will try to help. Note that students have traditionally received full funding once they are admitted (provided they remain in good academic standing and graduate in a reasonable amount of time), so cost of attending MIT should not be a concern.

    What advice can we give to improve your chances to get in? The best thing to do is to first learn about our latest research projects before you write your statement of objectives. You can download publications, and contact the students working on the projects that interest you most. Because of so many talented applicants, often the admission decisions come down to choosing those whose passions are most closely aligned with current research goals. Learn what interests us and see if it is a good fit to your interests. Of course you can also feel free to suggest things you think we should be interested in. Great design and visualization skills demonstrated in a portfolio are always a plus.

    Professor Picard rarely accepts more than 1-2 new students a year and some years accepts none. It is wise to target several areas of interest in your admissions application, to increase your chances of getting into MIT, and then once you are at MIT or in the Media Lab, you will find there are few walls. Thus, repeat the process above for 2 or 3 groups that interest you.

    Picard personally goes through the applications to Media Arts and Sciences that mention Affective Computing or Autism, so list these if you want to consider working with this group. If you make the "short-list" of admits, then Picard will likely follow up with you by phone or by arranging a face-to-face meeting before admissions decisions are made.

    We wish we had the resources to engage in email dialogue or otherwise interact with all applicants, their families, and others who email us on your behalf. Please do not expect personal responses to all your mails; Prof. Picard gets hundreds of mails a day and has time to respond to only a small handful.

    Each year many outstanding applicants are turned away, despite that they have enormous talent and we would love to have them join the lab. A rejection does not imply anything negative about your talent or ability. Sometimes people are just not a fit for the current research focus.  Some try repeatedly and get in on a 2nd or 3rd attempt. The staff in the office of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences can be of help if you have questions about the process or the status of your application. Faculty are not allowed to respond to individual queries about the status of an application, or why a student was or was not admitted. You will not help your application by mailing the faculty with such inquiries.

    Note that sometimes Prof. Picard serves on student thesis committees outside of MIT as well as outside the USA, so it may be possible to collaborate even if you are at another school.

  4. I'd like to be a visiting (professor/scientist/student) in your group. I have my own funds. It won't cost you anything. Can you please arrange...?

    Unfortunately with new US Immigration and MIT regulations, we are ALWAYS REQUIRED to pay money for international visiting students, and some other categories of visitor, even if they bring their own money. We get an enormous number of these requests and apologize that we do not have the resources to respond personally to all of them.

  5. I'd like to apply for a post-doc in your group. Do you have any post-doc openings?

    Unfortunately, almost never. Our group receives almost weekly  unsolicited postdoc requests and accepts about one person every 3  years. We apologize that we do not have the resources to personally respond to all these requests.

  6. Where can I buy galvactivators? How much do they cost?

    These sensors were never for sale. Due to our research needs and an overwhelming number of requests over the years we developed the iCalm sensor, an improvement over the galvactivator and the Handwave, which then became spun out into a commercial product, the Q Sensor. The Q Sensor was then made and sold by Affectiva and measured electrodermal activity as skin conductance (better quality than the galvanic skin response of the old galvactivator) and also measured activity and temperature on the surface of the skin. It is no longer sold, having been replaced by something much better available from Empatica, which measures a higher quality version of the data and provides analytics and applications for health. A brief description of what happened to the Q Sensor and how to find out more is here. 

  7. I'd like to use some of the data mentioned in one of your publications, where can I find access to it?

    We have a data share page that contains links to data sets. This page includes instructions for proper citations for the work.

  8. How can I build a Handwave skin conductance sensor?

    The primary work involved in constructing a Handwave device is in constructing a printed circuit board (PCB). A set of design files for the Handwave device may be downloaded and unzipped. This contains OrCad design files, a bill of materials, schematic, Gerber files, firmware source code, sample drivers, and design files for a programming jib. These files are most useful to those who are experienced computer or electrical engineers and are offered without any support or warranty.
    Further information can be found in the publications we wrote: The HandWave Bluetooth Skin Conductance SensorHandWave: Design and Manufacture of a Wearable Wireless Skin Conductance Sensor and Housing and The HandWave User's Guide.

  9. How do I read data from the Handwave Bluetooth skin conductivity sensor?

    Data can be read by reading from a serial port profile implemented by the Handwave device. More information can be found in the HandWave User's Guide.

  10. What are the best signals to measure if you want to recognize a person's response to [humor, anger, joy, etc.].

    There is no simple answer to this; it is an active research question that depends on many factors. "Best" is always with respect to some criteria: recognition accuracy, comfort and ease of sensing in a given situation, respect for user's privacy concerns, and more. For several examples, look at our publications.

  11. Who is developing technology in line with your interests for commercial use? When will it be available, and how much will it cost?

    Research at the MIT Media Lab is funded by sponsoring corporations, governments, and generous individuals. Our group shares ideas and prototypes with these companies and they take some of the ideas into development. Sometimes spin-out companies develop our ideas. Prof. Picard has co-founded two spin-out companies, Affectiva, making video-based analytics software for emotion measurement and communication (mostly focused on facial expressions and market research) and Empatica, focused on wearable sensors and their analytics for activity, stress, sleep, seizures, and supporting clinical studies.

  12. Have you produced any products?

    The MIT Media Lab is not in the business of making products. We have been told that we inspired or otherwise influenced products, such as Hasbro/iRobot's My Real Baby. (The development effort for this product was led by Jonathan Klein, an alumnus of our group.) Picard has worked with companies (outside MIT) on product conception and design and has co-founded two spin-out companies, Affectiva and Empatica, who are making products based on work that began in our lab at MIT. Our students also frequently start companies that make products.

  13. Can I interview you or your students?

    All press/interview/media requests are handled by the Media Lab Press Office. Please contact them via the Contact Us form or call Alexandra Kahn at 617-253-0365, and her office will handle it from there.

  14. I'm interested in purchasing the Prototype Sensing System, can the sensors be purchased? Do you have any more information about the system?

    The sensors we used (now over twenty years ago!) in our original Prototype Sensing System are available from:

    Thought Technology Ltd.
    2180 Belgrave Ave.
    Montreal Quebec, Canada H4A 2L8
    Tel: (514) 489-8251
    Fax: (514) 489-8255

    We prefer not to give out pricing or technical information on these; please contact the manufacturer.

Thank you for visiting this site. We apologize that we do not have time to respond individually to all the email we receive. We do value your comments and try to at least read most of the non-spam email. We hope that you will feel free to contact us at "affect" at "media dot mit dot edu" (making the usual substitutions) with additional comments or suggestions. Thanks!