Keeping a 'watch' on health

Posted: November 30, 2016

As smart devices continue to open the doors of possibilities, engineers at The Ohio State University are finding new ways to help people monitor and detect their health problems through real time technology.

The National Institutes of Health dedicated $10.8 million to help fund a multi-university MD2K research project to develop hardware and software intended to gather and analyze health data through wearable sensors built into smart devices.

The latest MIT Technology Review reports this work has resulted in a set of new gadgets capable of collecting a variety of raw, reliable sensor data, while remaining fully powered throughout the entire day. Because MD2K’s work is open-source, manufacturers such as Apple, Garmin, and Samsung could use the project’s designs to build similar sensors and apps for their own wearable devices.

While the technology behind wearable health devices has maintained limited commercial viability because of battery issues, data management and sometimes questionable results, the MD2K project combines the research capabilities across 12 different universities to solve such issues.

Ohio State electrical and computer engineering professor, Emre Ertin, helped develop MD2Ks wearable devices that go further than those currently on the market (i.e. Apple Watch) by creating the MotionSense "HRV" wristband, which uses three types of LED sensors (red, infra-red and green). The data from the sensors not only enables heart rate monitoring, but also provides simultaneous heart rate variability data between beats as well.

Ertin said this allows for a "stress biomarker" on smart devices not currently available at affordable prices or adequate reliability levels.

Why is measuring stress levels through heart rate variation data important? Ohio State researchers are working with their team counterparts at Northwestern to figure out, for example, what leads people who have quit drinking alcohol or smoking to relapse. The data is also useful in helping heart disease patients avoid hospitalization. Pop up messages on smart devices could potentially notify wearers of dangerous health signs before they occur.

Among the gadgets created by the MD2K team, EasySense uses micro-radar sensors to measure heart activity and lung fluid volume from a device worn on the chest. Additionally, AutoSense is a chest-band that produces electrocardiogram (ECG) and respiration data. All three gadgets stream their data via Wi-Fi to a smart phone software platform and translates it into digital biomarkers about the wearer’s health status and risk factors.

Watch a video of Ertin discussing wearable mobile health technology.