Hacking for Mental Health Hack Chat

Curt White will be joining us in the Hack Chat to talk about...

Friday, August 24, 2018 12:00 am PDT Local time zone:
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Curt White will be hosting the Hack Chat on Friday, August 24th, 2018 at noon PDT. 

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Curt White has been building medical devices, interactive installation art and crazy awesome costumes for years. He is 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 is actively working on gesture detection using wearables, machine learning optimized for microcontrollers, consulting on patent applications and building/fixing prototypes. 

He will be speaking about how mental health, something that is by definition intangible, can be addressed by building things - namely wearable devices and sensor data. In addition to practical engineering, he'll talk about how data from wearables can challenge the outdated and arbitrary classification of psychiatric disorders. Voice audio, actigraphy, EEG, and fMRI have the potential to help us progress beyond check-list diagnosis. If participants like, he can also speak about grassroots mental health activism and mental health in the hacker/maker community.
To learn more about device research and development at MATTER Lab check out our site:

In this chat we will be discussing:

  • Hacking for mental health
  • Addressing the intangible with the tangible 
  • Working with medical researchers

  • Hacking for Mental Health Transcript

    Stephen Tranovich08/24/2018 at 20:03 0 comments

    Stephen Tranovich12:06 PM
    Okay, let's get started! A big HELLO to @Curt White for joining us today!

    Curt White12:06 PM
    Hi everyone!

    Stephen Tranovich12:06 PM
    Curt, why don't you get us started by telling us a little about yourself!

    Curt White12:07 PM

    Curt White12:07 PM
    I build and research wearable devices related to mental health at CMI's MATTER Lab

    Curt White12:07 PM
    link here:

    Curt White12:08 PM
    I'm also a long time mental health activist. I've been heavily involved with the Icarus Project for many years:

    anfractuosity12:09 PM
    should the 2nd link be different?

    Stephen Tranovich12:09 PM
    That's really awesome. Super important work.

    Curt White12:09 PM here you go

    Stephen Tranovich12:09 PM


    The Icarus Project

    The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us.

    Read this on The Icarus Project

    Curt White12:09 PM

    Curt White12:09 PM

    anfractuosity12:09 PM

    Curt White12:10 PM
    The "Tingle" gesture recognition device at CMI is what I've spent the vast majority of my time on

    Stephen Tranovich12:10 PM
    Could you tell us a little more about that project?

    Curt White12:11 PM
    yeah, and that is a good segway into a more general conversation about devices and mental health

    Stephen Tranovich12:11 PM

    Curt White12:11 PM
    Mental health is extremely difficult to engage with at a device level - at least in terms of interventions

    Curt White12:12 PM
    one of the more insidious things about mental illness is its ability to undermine problem solving

    qdot.me12:12 PM
    Yeah - I wasn't too surprised when had to pivot - but I was very excited about their earlier model..

    Curt White12:12 PM
    in other words, if I build some kind of device to combat depression, a person experiencing depression may be unable to use it

    Curt White12:13 PM
    so before even building anything, I looked long and hard for problems that I could physically engage with

    Morning.Star12:13 PM
    Heh. :-)

    Quick Q, do you have a presence in the UK?

    ꝺeshipu12:14 PM
    shouldn't it be the other way around? looking for problems that your device solves seems backwards

    Curt White12:14 PM
    Trichotillomania is a compulsive disorder in which individuals pull their hair out

    Curt White12:14 PM
    crucially, the initiation of this behavior is unconscious

    qdot.me12:15 PM
    ꝺeshipu - not quite - it's usually a good idea to look for problems that a "class" of devices could solve, before you start actually customizing them for it.

    Curt White12:15 PM
    so that leaves us with an information deficit problem, if we can make individual aware that they are initiating that behavior (pulling out their hair) we can help them stop doing it

    Curt White12:15 PM
    so we have a physical gesture and lack of information

    Curt White12:16 PM
    this is a really promising situation from a device perspective - much more approachable than depression and the like

    Curt White12:18 PM
    What the "Tingle" device that I'm working does is detect a gesture (raising your hand to your head) associated with a problem behavior (pulling out hair) and provide feedback (vibration motor) to alert them and make them more conscious of their actions (fill information deficit)

    Bill Smith joined  the room.12:18 PM

    Curt White12:18 PM
    Finding the right problem is probably the most challenging step when it comes to devices and mental health

    Curt White12:19 PM
    Anyway, I came up with all this on my own and then got hired to pursue...

    Read more »

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Phillip Scruggs wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:47 point

Do you have any experience/suggestions on utilizing sensors and built in hardware that comes already in a smartphone. (Ex: Data acquisition through speaker in smartphone) (when permission is granted?) Any opinions on trying to utilize built in hardware inside a mobile device vs. external sensor hardware?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Arsenijs wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:23 point

Have you considered some form of device that tracks harmful behavioral patterns? Say, sleeping for too long, staying in bed, playing videogames, not having enough physical activity... I know that this can make or break a day, and I've been slowly working up to a solution in my mind, but nothing tangible yet.

  Are you sure? yes | no wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:22 point

Can you shine some light (or speculation) on what could've gone wrong with's original model? They tackled the hard problem of most common illnesses - and failed (then pivoted into a different model).

  Are you sure? yes | no

Stephen Tranovich wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:07 point

I see you do a lot of hacking on pre-existing devices, like smart watches that look like they came from ebay. How do you choose which devices to attempt hacking into for your next project?

  Are you sure? yes | no

deʃhipu wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:05 point

I've heard about many ideas that use various form of tracking to early diagnose things like depression or bipolar disorder, and I think that's great, however, what makes me very uncomfortable with them is that they all collect and store the data on their servers. Do you know of any similar software where the data never leaves my own computer? I feel very uncomfortable with the thought that data about my mental health might be accessed by anyone else.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Lutetium wrote 08/24/2018 at 19:05 point

How did you get your hacking projects to actually be put to use in medical contexts?

  Are you sure? yes | no

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