Imagine jogging, listening to music, and being able to keep track of your heart rate without needing a special watch or chest belt – common forms of attempting to monitor heart rates while jogging. Now, imagine not requiring any extra peripherals at all – just your iPhone and a special set of headphones that can monitor your heart rate.

Swiss technology-transfer company CSEM has created the final prototype for their Pulsear device. It’s a tiny device embedded in a regular earphone and it sends infrared signals through the tissues in your ear to see how fast your heart is beating. A photo diode records the results and sends the information to your phone via the earphone wires.

Accuracy is paramount. The special earphones had to pass through the scrutiny of the European Space Agency (ESA), who they were originally designed for. The ESA wanted a non-obtrusive device for recording physiological data of astronauts. The resulting research was used to make the prototype device that can be connected to the iPhone and then data recorded using an app. Researchers are now working on giving the earphones the ability to measure O2 levels as well.

Their goal is to create a device that is non obtrusive and can passively measure vital signs in real time via mobile form.  The vital sign recording earphones will be marketed not only for medical research, but for runners and hikers as well.

How accurate the device is will determine it’s use and based on the device passing the ESA’s standards, it seems this is of no concern.  These types of earphones would be a huge hit commercially since the two main methods used for tracking heart rate while jogging are with a chest strap or by a watch – both not ideal.  The chest strap is accurate, but cumbersome, while watches can often not be as accurate.

From a research perspective, if the creators are able to add the ability to measure pulse ox,the device would have huge research implications.  Adding the ability to measure o2 levels shouldn’t be difficult since similar infrared signal technology is used.  The ability to take measures of pulse ox and heart rate in real time and passively would be huge for those with respiratory issues or if researching pulmonary pharmacotherapies.

Source: European Space Agency