Friday Hack Chat: Hacking For Mental Health

Quite often we see applications of hacking and DIY in the medical field. From 3D printed prosthetics to hacked insulin pumps, there’s a wide variety of stuff you can do, but what about psychology? That’s what our Hack Chat this Friday is all about.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat is Curt White. He’s been building medical devices for years, and when he’s not doing that he’s creating interactive installation art and costumes. At work he’s a device and sensor developer at the Child mind Institute MATTER Lab where he designs and researches wearable medical devices for children with mental health issues. He’s currently working on gesture detection using wearables, machine learning optimized for microcontrollers, and building and fixing prototypes.

For this hack chat, we’ll talk about how mental health can be addressed by building things with a focus on wearable devices and sensor data. How are wearables challenging the outdated and arbitrary classification of psychiatric disorders, and what is the potential for audio, EEG, and fMRI to help us progress beyond checklist diagnosis? We’ll also talk about:

  • Hacking for mental health
  • Addressing the intangible with the tangible
  • Working with medical researchers
  • The fact that you don’t need an IRB if you don’t accept federal funding, or are working in Belize.

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hacking For Mental Health Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, August 24th. Need a countdown timer? Go go go

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Hacked Fitness Trackers Aim To Improve Mental And Physical Health

We all know that the mind can affect the body in dramatic ways, but we tend to associate this with things like the placebo effect or psychosomatic illnesses. But subtle clues to the mind-body relationship can be gleaned from the way the body moves, and these hacked fitness monitors can be used to tease data from the background noise of everyday movements to help treat mental health issues.

Over the last few years, [Curt White] of the Child Mind Institute has been able to leverage an incredibly cheap but feature-packed platform, the X9 Pro Sports Bracelet, a fitness band that looks more or less like a watch. Stuffed with an ARM Cortex processor, OLED screen, accelerometer, pulse sensor, and a ton of other stuff, the $35 wearable is a hacker’s dream. And hack it he did. One version of the bracelet is called Tingle, which is used to detect and avert body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), compulsive disorders that can result in self-harm through pulling at hair or pinching. The Tingle is trained to recognize the motions associated with these behaviors and respond with haptic feedback through the vibration motor. Another hacked X9 was attached to a dental retainer and equipped with sensors to monitor respirations intraorally, in an attempt to detect overdoses. It’s fascinating stuff, and the things [Curt] has done with these cheap fitness bands is mighty impressive.

This project is yet another entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize, which is currently in the Robot Modules phase. Got an idea for something to make robots easier to build? Start a project page on and get entered. Maybe your module will even feature a hacked fitness tracker.

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