researchers create thermal earring that can monitor temperature and stress like smartwatch

Researchers at the University of Washington have devised the Thermal Earring, a wireless wearable technology the size and weight of a small paperclip that can monitor the user’s body temperature, signs of stress, exercise, eating, and ovulation like a smartwatch (but for the ears). The smart Thermal Earring has already had its prototype, installed with a 28-day battery life. The wearable device forms two parts: a temperature sensor with a magnetic clip that attaches to the user’s ear, and another sensor that hangs below the ear which detects and estimates the room temperature. With these two sensors working together, the smart Thermal Earring can analyze and detect the user’s internal and external temperatures.

The University of Washington researchers leading the smart Thermal Earring include Qiuyue Shirley Xue, Yujia Liu, Joseph Breda, Mustafa Springston, Vikram Iyer, and Shwetak Patel. They have already conducted a study with their prototype, asking six users to wear the device. Their findings result in what they describe as outperforming a smartwatch in terms of sensing the skin temperature during periods of rest. It was during this experiment that they documented the potential of the Thermal Earring to monitor signs of stress, eating, exercise, and even ovulation given the results they garnered from the tests. The researchers published their results on January 12th in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies

Turning to earrings for the design of the sensored and wearable device is a conscious choice. ‘We found that sensing the skin temperature on the lobe, instead of a hand or wrist, was much more accurate. It also gave us the option to have part of the sensor dangle to separate ambient room temperature from skin temperature,’ says co-lead author Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue. Smartwatches can be bulky, but the Thermal Earring’s size can counter them in terms of portability. The researchers also took on the challenge to make it robust enough for its size and less of a battery-charge siphon. ‘It’s a tricky balance. Typically, if you want power to last longer, you should have a bigger battery. But then you sacrifice size. Making it wireless also demands more energy,’ says co-lead author Yujia (Nancy) Liu.
In the end, the researchers managed to keep the power consumption of the Thermal Earring as efficient as possible, all the while making space for a Bluetooth chip, a battery, two temperature sensors, and an antenna. They did it by using Bluetooth advertising mode instead of making the earring pair with a device which can use more power. In this way, the Thermal Earring reads the temperature, transmits the data using Bluetooth, and goes into deep sleep as soon as it finishes to save power. Measuring the temperature through the earlobe offers the researchers a look into its novel uses including successful detection of temperature variations related to eating, exercising, and experiencing stress. With these results, the researchers are afforded the possibility to devise a health-monitoring earring that can detect the changes in the body’s temperature inside instead of only outside like smartwatches these days.

As of publishing the story, the researchers say that the Thermal Earring may not yet be commercially available in the near future. Moving forward, they are exploring to train their models and conduct more thorough testing to gather more and solid data before the wearable technology goes out to the public. Co-lead author Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue plans to integrate heart rate and activity monitoring for future iterations and versions of the Thermal Earring, and other features may also include powering the device using solar power or kinetic energy drawn from the earring swaying as the user walks. So far, the earring can be personalized with fashion designs made of resin or with a gemstone without negatively affecting its accuracy.



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