Wearing Their Heart Monitor on Their Sleeves
Mason researcher Vivian Motti joined teams from Dartmouth College and Clemson University to develop a more technologically advanced, wearable mobile health device.
Motti, a professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology at the Volgenau School of Engineering, came to Mason from Clemson in January 2016, and brought with her this cutting-edge project that works along the same lines as popular wearable fitness trackers.
Her team has been awarded a two-year grant of $43,677 from the National Science Foundation to create computational jewelry for mobile health with a device they’ve dubbed the Amulet bracelet.
Amulet lets users manage their health and wellness by interacting with other wearable health sensors, constituting what Motti calls a user’s “wireless body-area network.” The Amulet device serves as a “hub,” tracking health information and securely sending data to other health devices or to medical professionals.
Potential applications for the Amulet also include tracking the use of medications, sending reminders when doses are due, and providing critical health data to responders in a medical emergency. At the same time, it protects users’ privacy by enabling them to control what is sensed and stored, where it’s stored, and how it’s shared.
“I see it as a tool to empower users with information. Wearables can really bring technology closer to the user’s life in a nonintrusive, accessible way.”
Building the Amulet prototype from scratch proved tougher than expected, Motti admits. Issues such as telecommunication, networks, the application itself, ergonomics, battery life, and software all had to be resolved inside a device that users would actually want to wear.
“It’s hard to prioritize what to put into the design while still making it comfortable for the user and able to perform the tasks effectively,” Motti says. “That was the most challenging part.”
Motti and her team at the Human-Centric Design Lab focus on making sure the device is both useful and easy to use.
Early prototypes were large, but the team reduced the size of components until they had a thin, lightweight device that sends signals to users through vibrations, and features a graphic interface and carefully positioned buttons. And since it’s worn around-the-clock, they’re making it water resistant, too.
Three prototypes have been created so far, each with a different focus. The first was crafted to aid in smoking cessation. From there, a stress management bracelet was fashioned to monitor anxiety levels. The third is centered on weight loss and includes an activity meter.
Motti’s team expects to have a commercial product available within two years. So far, she says, feedback has been positive, and suggestions are still being used to improve the prototypes.