Many men wish death upon me;
Blood in my eye, dog, and I can’t see.
I’m trying to be what I’m destined to be,
And [they are] trying to take my life away.

– 50 Cent, rapper and mHealth entrepreneur

50 Cent is entering the medical arena, and hoping to help you keep track of your blood, not through your eyes, but through your ears. 50’s company SMS Audio has been recruited as a partner by Intel to create the BioSport In-Ear Headphones with heart rate tracking, available this fall.

Wearable PPGs

Intel’s headphones follow the emerging trend of incorporating optic sensors in wearables for PPG (photoplethysmography), the same technology used in a standard pulse oximeter used on the patient’s finger in many hospitals. PPG devices emits light into the skin and measure changes in reflection with a light sensor. Blood flowing through a vessel scatters light in a distinctive pattern, altering the signal enough for extremely accurate pulse monitoring. PPG has been shown to be more reliable in motion than alternative biometric fitness devices like chest straps and wrist bands.

Intel’s headphones will be powered by Valencell’s Performtek system, which is also used in competing products from iRiver and LG. Performtek crams the light emitter and receptor, along with an accelerometer, into a device than can fit within the ear.

Biometrics from the Ear

While the size constraints of an earbud offer unique challenges not faced by developers of wristbands and other wearables, the ear has advantages that outweigh the added difficulties,  Valencell’s founder Steven LeBoeuf told the MIT Technology Review. The ear has a simple, consistent route for blood flow, with less ‘noise’ and movement than other locations.

While heart rate is the only biometric data advertised to be available with these devices, LeBoeuf claims that Performtek could measure much more, including temperature and respiration rate. With the movement data from the accelerometer, Performtek’s algorithms may be able to accurately estimate calories burned and VO₂  max (maximum oxygen consumption during exercise). Valencell says the accuracy of this method is supported by a study performed by LeBoeuf and researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine.

Useful data can be collected through the headphones even if the user wears them only sporadically; it is not necessary to wear them constantly. Products like this are enabling health monitoring without the need to buy or wear special, health-focused gadgets. More people are likely to make use of the advances in mobile health technology if the capability is already included in everyday consumer products they own and use already.

Comments are closed.