Turn up, tune in but don’t drop out with health monitoring earphones

microsoft_septimu_earphonesAs part of a recent research project, Microsoft has incorporated health and fitness monitoring into a pair of earphones.

One application being developed for the hardware platform named Septimu, is a smartphone app called Musical Heart. The app enables Septimu to generate tunes based on a person’s mood or activity. So for example, fitness enthusiasts who want to keep the heart rate high can use Musical Heart to automatically up the tempo, helping them keep up the pace. Or for those feeling stressed or angry, Musical Heart could select something more soothing to help bring the heart rate and breathing down to a more relaxed level. Reported in PSFK

A timely study published online last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated that ‘musical agency’ (i.e. music chosen by the study participants) greatly decreased perceived exertion during strenuous activity. You can read more about the study in the New York Times. Whether or not Musical Heart’s automatic generation of tunes could be classed as musical agency would need to be looked at further though!

Dynamic music generation based on mood is only one possible way the Septimu platform could be used. Other lifestyle and health applications include ‘posture detection, health diary, exercise patterns and coaching, and remote doctoring’. There is also potential for it to be integrated with other devices, such as the Xbox or to integrate social networks with the platform to motivate healthy behavioural changes.

Microsoft are not the only company who see potential in gathering biometric data from the insides of our ears. Just last week Gizmag featured iRiver’s new On audio headset, which reportedly “monitors more real-time fitness data from a single source than any other personal monitor”. The data is obtained through a sensor module in the right-hand-side earbud, that uses infrared light and an accelerometer to analyze blood flow and physical activity. Which reminds me of Apple’s patent application for a wireless earbud sensor (using infrared radiation to monitor blood oxygen level, body temperature, heat flux and heart rate) reported by TTA’s Editor-in-Chief, Donna Cusano in 2009!

It looks like this area will be one to watch, particularly as the approach shows how health and wellness monitoring can be incorporated into existing technologies without requiring change to our existing lifestyles.

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