Inspired by yoga, Canada engineer creates device to help you breathe better

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times, Toronto
  • Updated: Jun 12, 2016 10:24 IST
Co-founders of Ohm Gear Lab Cindy Gu (sitting) and Louise Thomas. (HT Photo)

A young engineer from Vancouver has developed a wearable device based on yoga that is aimed at harmonising a fundamental facet of human health – breathing.

22-year-old Cindy Gu, born and raised in Beijing, has created a prototype —a smart belt coupled with a mobile app — that found its “inspiration” in pranayama, a basic aspect of yoga. That in itself is no surprise since Gu, who just completed her Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia or UBC, is also a yoga instructor.

“I’ve learnt that breathing’s a vital practice in yoga meditation but it also has a significant impact on our mood, emotions and stress levels, so that led me to design a device to help other people breathe better,” she said. It was originally supposed to be a device for her personal use, but after pitching the idea at a startup contest at UBC and winning, she realised it had traction.

The device is “the belt, basically, really the sensor and the fabric, that’s detecting the expansion and contraction of the lower belly and taking in that behavioural data. The machine learns it and is able to understand the user’s breathing pattern and when there are irregularities in that pattern, that’s when the device will signal to the user with a haptic feedback”. That comes by way of a gentle vibration that alerts the user that their breathing is awry, basically a buzz to let them know it’s time to take a deep breath. Gu said not breathing properly leads to stress, something she hopes this device will help prevent.

Gu took up yoga to combat just that — the tension of her university workload. “I was feeling very stressed out and struggling to come up for air,” she said.

Last summer, she was certified as a yoga instructor. “It’s been a life-changing experience for me, delving in deeper into yoga and deeper into the internal well-being and also the spirituality of the practice,” Gu said.

Gu, along with Louise Thomas, an engineering student, have formed Ohm Gear Lab to bring the device to the market after winning a pair of startup competitions. Other than the belt, it will include a mobile app that will have biometric data synced to a smartphone allowing the user to track how, for instance, a healthy pattern of breathing has affected their heart rate.

Gu is currently in Beijing and has started the process of looking for a manufacturing supply chain. She hopes the device will be available by December next year after a period of rigorous testing. A price point of Canadian $180 (or about Rs 9,200) is under consideration.

Meanwhile, Gu will make her first visit to India later this month. Fittingly, that will largely be devoted to being in Hrishikesh, to “learn yoga from its root”.

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