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Getting Creative With Wearables – Meet the Thermal Earring

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Thermal Earring

After glasses, rings, belts, and hats, another accessory has made it into the world of wearables: smart earrings that can monitor a person’s temperature.

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) recently introduced a first-of-its-kind smart earring called Thermal Earring. The device takes advantage of earrings’ unique position: its proximity to the head, a region with tight coupling to the body, unlike watches and other wearables.

The wireless wearable monitors the earlobe’s temperature on a constant basis. It has about the same size and weight as that of a small paperclip. The hardware prototype measures a length of 31 mm and a width of 11.3 mm while weighing 335 mg.

Being small and light enough to integrate into real jewelry means the device can be personalized with a gemstone or fashion design made of resin without affecting its accuracy.

The team of researchers developed a dual-sensor design that allowed them to distinguish changes in human body temperature from environmental changes. Its magnetic clip attaches one sensor to the ear of the person while another sensor hangs about an inch below it to gauge the room temperature. 

They found measured earlobe temperatures during periods of rest to be stable within ±0.32 °C. Additionally, the product consumes only 14.4 uW, translating to a 28-day battery life.

Published in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies, the Thermal Earring’s performance exceeded that of a smartwatch at sensing skin temperature during resting periods. Additionally, in the study of six users, the wearable showed promise for monitoring signs of eating, exercise, stress, and ovulation. 

Talking about the wearable, Qiuyue Xue, who co-lead the study and is a doctoral student in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), noted in an interview that many people find smartwatches to be “unfashionable or bulky and uncomfortable,” so they started exploring unique things from the earlobe. 

“We found that sensing the skin temperature on the lobe, instead of a hand or wrist, was much more accurate.” 

– Qiuyue Xue

He also added that this discovery provided them with the option to dangle part of the sensor to measure ambient room temperature separately from skin temperature.

However, creating a small enough wearable that can pass as an earring while being robust enough that it can be charged only every few days was an “engineering challenge.” This is because if you want the power to last longer, you’re going to need a bigger battery, which means a bigger size. Moreover, making the device wireless also needs more energy.

So, “it’s a tricky balance,” said co-lead author Yujia Liu, who’s currently at the University of California San Diego but was a master’s student at UW’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the time of the research.

Funded by the Washington Research Foundation, the research team made the power consumption of the earring as efficient as possible and, at the same time, made space for a battery, a Bluetooth chip, an antenna, and two temperature sensors.

The product utilizes Bluetooth to broadcast the transmissions for being paired instead of using it with another device because that would have used more power. Also, the Thermal Earring goes into deep sleep once it has read and sent the temperature in order to save power.

Due to a lack of study regarding continuous earlobe temperature, researchers also explored its potential applications to guide future research. This includes the possibility of constant monitoring of fever. After all, body temperature is an important vital sign to indicate fever. 

In five patients with fevers, the device reported the average earlobe temperature rising 10.62 degrees Fahrenheit (5.92 degrees Celsius) in comparison to the temperatures of 20 healthy patients.

“Longer term monitoring is a way to increase sensitivity of capturing fevers, since they can rise and fall throughout the day.” 

– Dr. Mastafa Springston, the co-author of the research from UW School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine

Interestingly, our core body temperature usually stays relatively constant under normal conditions, i.e., outside of fever. However, the temperature of our earlobes varies more, presenting several novel uses for the device.

The team did some tests and found that the Thermal Earring captured the temperature variations corresponding with stressing, exercising, and eating. The study also found that acute stressors like exams and public speaking also lead to measurable changes in the temperature of the earlobe.

Moreover, the earring, when tested on six users at rest, showed varied reading by 0.58 F (0.32 C) on average in comparison to a smartwatch’s 0.72 C variation. This puts it within the range of 0.28 C to 0.56 C, which is necessary for ovulation and period tracking.

While popular wearables from brands like Apple Watch and Fitbit do have temperature sensors, Xue said, they only provide an average temperature for the day. Not to mention, these devices take temperature readings from wrists and hands, which are “too noisy to track ovulation.”

Hence, the team is exploring novel uses for the device, particularly applications that women might find attractive, she added.

These findings, however, are preliminary, and there’s a need for more data to train the models for each use case. Currently, the study focuses on a range of potential uses. The device further needs to be put through more testing before the public can use it. It is not yet available commercially.

For the future iterations of the Thermal Earring, the team is interested in integrating monitoring of heart rate and activity. 

“Eventually, I want to develop a jewelry set for health monitoring.” 

– Xue

While the earrings would be used to sense activity and health metrics such as temperature and heart rate, a necklace can serve as an electrocardiogram monitor for more effective heart health data, she added.

This is not all, though. Xue further wants to explore powering the device with solar energy or kinetic energy from the swaying of the earring. 

The Rise of Smart Wearables in Everyday Life

The study by UW researchers aims to provide a foundation for future automatic activity detection with its initial exploration and earring-based wearables. While such wearables might be novel, smart accessories are becoming increasingly common. 

Wearables are electronic devices that are designed to be worn on the body and can be used for a range of purposes, including tracking health, wellness, and fitness in real time, training, and education.

One of the first popular wearables was FitBit, which came out in 2009. At the time, it could just track the steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned. We have come a long way since then. Now, these wearables can do so much more, showing great promise to become an integral part of our lives.

Advances in technology have also brought down the cost of these devices and led to their wide-scale adoption. As a result, the global wearable device market size is projected to surpass $380 bln in the next four years, as per Facts and Factors

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2024, it became even more prominent as startups and big names from the tech world showcased the latest innovations. One such wearable is the Evolve MVMT, which tracks gait biometrics and uses ‘light walking’ for less heel striking, which is a common issue leading to joint injuries. 

When it comes to smart glasses, the new ASUS AirVision M1 at the event showed a multi-monitor experience. Meanwhile, AirGo3 Smart Glasses by Solos were made available late last year and come with a ChatGPT-powered Live Translate feature that can translate languages in real time via the device’s built-in microphone and speakers. 

Then there’s TCL’s AR smart glasses, RayNeo X2, that are equipped with a smart assistant, real-time translation, and 3D interactive map navigation in addition to photo and video capture, music playback, and notification support from a connected smartphone. 

Last year, Meta (previously Facebook) also introduced the new Ray-Ban. These smart glasses come with custom-designed speakers with higher maximum volume, extended bass, and improved directional audio, and an ultra-wide 12 MP camera for improved photo and video quality. Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon AR1 Gen1 Platform for higher-quality photo and video processing. Other accessories that carry the smart touch include rings, belts, headbands, footwear, and clothing.

Movano Health’s Evie Ring tracks heart rate, sleep quality, skin temperature, blood oxygen levels, and menstrual symptoms to provide health insights. Meanwhile, the Amazfit Helio Ring from Zepp Health emerges as a comprehensive wellness tool that measures physical activity as well as mental well-being. The smart ring is designed with advanced monitoring, analysis, and guidance and offers detailed sleep tracking and recovery statistics.

There has actually been an increasing focus on mental health by companies developing wearables. For instance, the Apollo Neuro makes use of gentle vibrations to stimulate the nervous system, helping manage stress. 

Moreover, it enhances overall well-being by optimizing heart rate variability (HRV) and stress management. Then there’s a smartwatch called NOWATCH focused on stress tracking and mindfulness, which comes with an app to track physiological data and ways to balance the nervous system.

When it comes to headbands, such devices measure brain activity, heart rate, breath, and body movement to provide sleep support, while helmets are designed to improve workplace safety. They contain different sensors and haptic feedback to detect different body movements.

As for smart clothing, sensors are integrated within the fabric at different locations on the body. For instance, the ARTEMIS bodysuit has built-in heat panels and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation gel pads to provide menstrual pain relief using heat and micro-vibrations. 

There’s even an AI Pin. Humane’s small, square, high-tech devices are pinned to your chests, allowing you to take photos, talk, gesture, or summon a virtual assistant. Designed to be fastened to a shirt or blouse, the device called the Ai Pin aims to stop the dependency on smartphones.

The company’s CEO, Bethany Bongiorno, has been calling it the world’s first contextual computer that offers an opportunity to bring AI with you everywhere. It is intended to be less invasive than smart glasses and AR headsets. Humane is backed by the likes of Microsoft, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and LG, Volvo, and Qualcomm’s venture arms.

Meanwhile, smart belts are being designed to help visually impaired people and enhance employee safety in the workplace, marking significant advancements in wearable technology for health and safety. Transitioning to the realm of smart footwear, Baliston unveiled its innovative recyclable smart shoe at CES 2024. This shoe features embedded sensors and gait analysis technology, aiming to improve user form, enhance blood circulation, reduce back pain, and lessen wearers’ fatigue.

Meanwhile, companies like Milbotix are targeting consumers with dementia and autism spectrum disorders. Their SmartSocks track rising distress in the wearer by tracking heart rate, sweat levels, and movement to provide a more timely intervention. 

Smart wearables are further making use of generative AI as large language models like GPT-4 gain popularity. Microsoft applied for a patent for their futuristic AI-powered smart backpack that comes with a camera, microphone, speaker, network interface, processor, and storage. 

Other products utilizing generative AI include the Apple Series 9 Watch, Rewind Pendant, which encrypts and stores what you say and hear in the real world on your phone, and a small device to wear on a belt or wrist called Tab, which has a built-in AI assistant, camera, microphone, speaker, and GPS. 

This makes clear that the future of wearables is promising and holds tremendous potential. And as technology advances, we’ll be seeing even more creative and sophisticated devices that will make them even more exciting and impactful. 

Companies Developing Innovative Wearables

In the realm of smart wearables, many companies have been developing innovative products, so let’s take a look at some of the prominent names in this field:

#1. Apple

The company’s product categories include iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Wearables, Home, and Accessories. In the wearables space, the company offers the Apple Watch, which has evolved to include various health-tracking features such as heart rate monitoring, ECG, and fall detection. 

With the Apple Watch, you can take advantage of features like cardio fitness, high & low heart rate alerts, ECG reading, and irregular rhythm notifications, and also track your AFib episodes to see how lifestyle factors influence them.

finviz dynamic chart for  AAPL

The tech giant has a market cap of $2.89 trillion, with Apple’s shares trading at $185.84, down 2.79% YTD. The company reported a revenue (TTM) of $385.7 bln and has an EPS (TTM) of 6.43 and a P/E (TTM) of 29.12. Apple also pays a dividend yield of 0.51%. 

#2. FitBit

Now part of Google, Fitbit is known for its fitness trackers and smartwatches that monitor activities, heart rate, sleep, and more. Its new devices offer health-tracking sensors, which means detailed sleep tracking, heart rate tracking, SpO2 monitoring, AFib monitoring, an EDA sensor, an ECG sensor, and an accelerometer. The company hopes to leverage AI to help provide deeper health insights, such as exercise goals. 

finviz dynamic chart for  GOOGL

Google has a market cap of $1.83 trillion, with its shares trading at $146.39, up 5.61% YTD. The company reported a revenue (TTM) of $307.39 bln and has an EPS (TTM) of 5.80 and a P/E (TTM) of 25.44. 

Conclusion

Smart accessories are simply the new way of living life. However, they are not without challenges. Data protection and privacy are among the biggest concerns with wearables, in addition to ensuring accurate and reliable data collection. There is also limited interoperability between different devices, making it difficult to integrate them into healthcare systems.

However, despite these challenges, technology is constantly evolving, which means these wearables would also evolve. The more innovative and creative wearables get, the more their adoption will increase, leading to our better well-being. 

Click here for the list of the best wearable companies to invest in.

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.