Human health sensing plays a key role in my research. Over the last few years there’s been a sharp incline in the quantity and variety of consumer devices and medical sensors that capture some aspect of physiological, cognitive and physical human health.
This post is my attempt to capture some of the activity in this space. This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it’s representative of where we are. It combines devices and sensors that are fairly mainstream with hundreds of thousands of users, with others that are still in their infancy as research projects. I might update this list sporadically, based on new findings. I am also curious to find out what is missing from the list, so feel free to leave comments.
BodyMedia: The BodyMedia FIT system provides activity, calories and sleep pattern data. The BodyMedia FIT Armband automatically tracks the calories burned during daily activities and monitors the quality of your sleep. This is a fairly popular device and has been around for quite some time. As the name suggests, it is attached to the body through an armband and collects movement data.
Basis: Basis is a wristwatch that tracks caloric burn, activity levels and sleep habits. It’s not available yet, but it looks like it will be soon. The form factor is promising, and looks good too. It is supposed to contain an optical blood flow sensor, obtain temperature readings, and more.
Fitbit: The Fitbit tracks calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled and sleep quality. It’s a small device that can be clipped to a belt. It’s also quite popular, and available for purchase today.
Jawbone Up: New upcoming product announced by Jawbone, the company behind highly-rated headsets. It will track movement, sleep patterns and eating habits and will have the form factor of a bracelet.
Valencell Healthset: Earbuds that track heart rate, calories burned and physical activity. If this really works as advertised, it has enormous potential, since it doesn’t require any additional sensing devices like the BodyMedia FIT and the Fitbit.
Zephyr: The key product from Zephyr is called BioHarness, which measures critical vital signs (ECG, heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature ) and physical activity using an accelerometer. The activity and physiological data can be transmitted in real-time for remote condition monitoring. They don’t seem to be selling a consumer product right now.
24eight: This company is developing a whole range of technologies associated with health sensing, from “smart” slippers (with “smart” insoles – slippers that can tell when your grandmother might be headed for a fall) to SIDSense, a 3D infant mobility monitor sensor. From what I can tell, 24eight is developing technologies and licensing it to be used in various products.
Zeo: Zeo is the leader in the space of sleep analytics. After purchasing a $200 kit, you wear a headband when you go to bed. In the morning, the Zeo scores the quality of your sleep and shows you detailed analytics of how you slept through the night. A feature I find compelling is the alarm clock, which wakes you up within a time window, whenever it senses you will be most refreshed.
WakeMate: Similar to the Zeo, but instead of a headband, you must wear a bracelet. They claim their analytics platform “optimizes your waking hours by automatically analyzing your sleep and illuminating personal habits that affect your sleep”.
Lark: Similar to the Zeo and the WakeMate. Lark also markets the product as a soundless alarm clock – the bracelet vibrates when it’s time to wake up, without disturbing the significant other sleeping next to you.
Nyx Devices: Nyx is developing the Somnus Sleep Shirt, a tshirt with embedded respiration sensors. This is another approach for obtaining sleep analytics data and a significant step in the direction of wearable sensing. I am really looking forward to seeing the future of this product.
Blood Glucose Level
Dexcom Seven Plus Continuous Glucose Monitoring: This device is a continuous glucose monitoring system for people with diabetes. Unlike traditional glucose monitors that require a blood sample for each analysis, patients introduce a very small sensor/transmitter into their bodies that sends glucose level information to a receiver outside the body in real-time. The sensor is placed subcutaneously and continuously measures glucose levels in the interstitial fluid.
iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter: The iBGStar is the first available blood glucose meter that connects to the Apple iPhone. I fully expect to see more devices connecting and sending data to mobile devices, so this device is emblematic of this upcoming trend.
Remote Health Monitoring
GE QuietCare: This is a system for activity detection and recognition in the home. It’s the result of a partnership between Intel and GE. Data sent from the sensors is analyzed by algorithms to detect any out-of-the-ordinary events that may put residents at risk. We are just starting to see the category of health telematics and personal health monitoring emerge and this company is hoping to bring it to scale.
Asthamapolis: A project whose goal is to track when an asthma inhaler is used. In connection with a mobile phone, a GPS-powered inhaler maps and track asthma symptoms/triggers, helping patients learn more about asthma while also improving public health. I anticipate an increasing number of medical devices associating its use with contextual information like time of day and location.
Affectiva Q-Sensor: Affectiva produces the Q Sensor, a wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance, a form of electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation. This is not a consumer product, but it’s rapidly becoming a popular tool in research studies where tracking emotional levels is required.
Duo Fertility Monitor: DuoFertility is a fertility monitor to help women get pregnant naturally, and avoid invasive medical procedures such as IVF. A patch-like sensor monitors body temperature and transmits it to a receiver, which then calculates a fertility level. As part of the service offered, fertility experts might also get involved to examine the data and provide feedback.
CellScope: An attachment that clips onto the back of an ordinary camera phone and turns it into a portable microscope capable of visualizing single-celled pathogens like malaria parasites or tuberculosis bacteria. This is a very powerful idea, especially in the context of developing nations.
Withings Scale and Blood Pressure: Withings is trying to make it easy to track basic physiological signals like blood pressure, BMI and weight over time. They have developed devices that transmit data wirelessly over WiFi or to a mobile phone with the goal of making it easy to get a daily health overview.
Proteus Biomedical: Proteus develops ingestible event markers (IEMs), tiny, digestible sensors made from food ingredients, which are activated by stomach fluids after swallowing. Once activated, the IEM creates an ultra-low-power, private, digital signal detected by a microelectronic recorder configured as either a small bandage style skin-patch or a tiny device inserted under the skin. The detector date- and time-stamps, decodes, and records information such as type of drug, dose, and place of manufacture, and also measures and reports physiologic parameters such as heart rate, activity, and respiratory rate. Detector data can be combined at the server-level with other telemetered parameters such as blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, and patient-generated feedback. Quite remarkable.
Given Imagine: This company designed the PillCam video capsule for capsule endoscopy, a medical procedure which allows your physician to visualize parts of your gastrointestinal tract. The GI tract is a part of the digestive system and extends from the mouth to the anus. This is very impressive technology.
There’s no doubt we will see an explosion of human sensing devices over the next 5-10 years. What is available today is just scratching the surface of what is possible. Two major trends are already evident, (1) the mobile phone will become the hub to many of these sensors and devices (although I expect that we will see increasingly more sensors that are capable of transmitting data wirelessly over cell networks) and (2) we will see a lot of experimentation with non-invasive body sensing (e.g. tracking sodium and glucose using nano-sensors with a bio tattoo and a smart phone).
For additional resources related to this topic, I suggest the Quantified Self Guide to Self-Tracking. The guide lists applications and services beyond health and medicine sensing, but it contains lots of examples of human health sensing tools.