This smart mood ring is supposed to monitor mental health without changing colors

Startup Happy Health is looking to give the mood ring a “smart” makeover. Instead of dubious color-changing stones, it has created the Happy Ring, which aims to alert users about their mental health using biometric sensors and artificial intelligence.

The Happy Ring, which just received $60 million in funding, features a custom electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor that monitors changing stress levels in real time. Essentially, the device works by detecting when your sympathetic nervous system — the thing that regulates your fight or flight response — starts raring up.

“As we start to have difficult thoughts or experience strong emotion, our brain responds to help us respond to that stimuli,” says Dustin Freckleton, a medical doctor and Happy Health CEO. “EDA sensors measure the electrical changes that occur on the hand in response to the small amounts of sweat that start to be produced on the palm of the hand.” Freckleton went on to explain that Happy Ring’s EDA sensor then looks for sweat gland openings or sweat production, which is then fed into an algorithm that identifies your emotional state. The ring then continually adjusts the AI model to an individual person’s data, as opposed to comparing that person’s data to a predetermined user set.

“We tell you about your mood on an ongoing basis so you understand when you’re calm, alert, or tense,” says Happy Health and Tinder founder Sean Rad. “And we take all that data and personalize exercises for you that are scientifically proven to help manage your stress and improve your mood and overall wellbeing.” Rad also added that, from a security and standards perspective, the device is HIPAA compliant but didn’t go into further detail regarding Happy Health’s privacy policy and how data is stored.

Those exercises include activities like breath work, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy-based journaling. The exercises can all be completed in-app and are simultaneously tracked by the ring itself as you complete them.

Other wearables like the Fitbit Sense, Sense 2, and even Manchester City’s forthcoming smart scarf also feature EDA sensors as a means of tracking stress or emotion. According to Freckleton, the benefit of a ring is that it’s better suited than wrist or torso-based trackers to measure stress as it’s located on the hand itself. (The Fitbit Sense, for instance, requires you to place your hand over the display to get a reading.)

The device’s sensors also include four skin electrodes, four light wavelengths, accelerometers, and two temperature sensors. It also tracks sleep and overall activity and has an estimated battery life of up to three days.

On the surface, a lot of this sounds familiar to features you’ll find in an Oura Ring or a Whoop 4.0 — minus the custom EDA sensor. However, Rad says the Happy Ring is much more focused on a user’s mental state, whereas other wearables on the market track metrics like heart rate and heart rate variation as a proxy for how well your body has recovered from physical stress.

“They [Oura, Whoop] don’t have any metrics around mental health,” says Rad. “We’re not necessarily giving you metrics that are about waking up and helping you physically perform. They talk about strain and recovery. We’re talking about uniquely measuring aspects of your brain health.”

Freckleton also claims the Happy Ring’s personalized algorithm is more accurate than what’s currently on the market, especially since the company has built its EDA sensor from the ground up with “medical-grade” accuracy. He pointed to a study in the journal Sleep comparing the device’s accuracy to several other wearables like the Actiwatch 2, Fitbit Charge 4, Whoop 3.0, and the second-gen Oura Ring. Granted, the study only observed a sample of 36 participants over 77 nights, but peer-reviewed studies of any kind are rare when it comes to health and wellness gadgets.

Which is exactly what the Happy Ring is — a wellness gadget. It’s not at all intended to diagnose any sort of mental condition. According to Rad, the device is “designed to clinical standards, but not a clinical device.”

As for when the device will be available, Happy Health has a wait list, and the device will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis. But one thing users might not be too keen on is that, like Whoop and the Oura Ring, it uses a subscription model. While you don’t pay for the hardware upfront, it’s built into a monthly, annual, or 24-month subscription tier. The monthly tier costs $30, $24 per month if you pay annually, and $20 per month if you choose the 24-month plan.

Overall, Happy Ring sounds like a neat idea, and its concept is an extension of where wearables have been headed. While wearables were initially glorified pedometers, in recent years, there’s been a shift toward stress management, sleep tracking, and mindfulness. This was accelerated once the pandemic hit. The big question is whether a relative newcomer like the Happy Ring can play ball with what’s already out there.