While the advances made in tiny sensors and microchips have enabled an entirely new class of consumer-facing health devices, even the most sophisticated piece of technology will fail to improve our collective well-being if nobody can use it. This becomes more of a user experience challenge than a technical one, as designers try create their products to seamlessly fit into the background of people’s lives.
To that end, Japanese investment company Bifrostec and global research institute The Kaiteki Institute have designed a device that is able to transform any standard pair of headphones into a pulse monitor. This merging of form and extra-functionality means valuable health metrics can be tracked anytime you listen to your favorite album or podcast.
Unveiled at the Healthcare Device Exhibition held recently in Japan, the pulse sensor measures the subtle vibrations in the ear canal, which correspond to a person’s heart rate. In order to account for any ambient sounds, the researchers developed an algorithm that filters out the background noise, creating a ‘good enough’ reading.
While tracking heart-rate metrics during normal activities has its benefits, this device becomes more advantageous when paired with fitness activities, making exercise safer for people who are at higher risk of heart disease. Bifrostec explained their thinking:
There are many people who listen to music while jogging. With the new technology, it becomes possible to measure their pulse waves without any special effort.
Researchers also adapted the device to create a ring-shaped sensor. In addition to the aforementioned heart disease group, either headphones or ring could prove useful to anyone with a sedentary lifestyle, high stress groups, or those prone to fatigue. Information, as they say, is power — access to biometrics in real-time could help people make adjustments to improve their lifestyle.
The pulse sensor is just a prototype for now. But very soon, our smartphones could warn us when we need to slow down our exercise regimens — or when we’re getting lazy and need to speed up.