Health Conscious Tech: How wearables are adapting to monitor our blood pressure and caffeine levels

The technology that we develop has one fundamental purpose: to help improve our lives. Whether the technology in question is as simple as a light bulb or as complex as prosthetics that we control with our minds, the goal is to make life easier. 

Wearable technology is developing at an incredible pace, and often helps us to improve our lives by listening to the subconscious signs that our bodies give off. 

Despite disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 had been a transformative year for smart wearables - with health-conscious consumers buying more smartwatches and hearables as a remote work boom forced more of us to spend more time alone while isolating. 

2020 also saw a number of advancements in the technology behind smart wearables - enabling us to make greater strides in how we observe our health and diets. 

Perpetual Blood Pressure Monitoring with Smart Glasses

Israeli startup, Facense, is devising ways of developing pioneering technology to collect vital signs using smart glasses on a continuous basis. 

The concept is based on utilizing Photoplethysmography for determining blood pressure and various other vitals through the use of cameras attached to smart glasses. 

Facense’s argument is that continuous monitoring with existing blood pressure monitors such as cuff-based technology is tricky, uncomfortable and impractical when it comes to functioning in real-world settings such as morning commutes or at work. 

The company uses smart glasses to measure physiological signals, such as heart rate and blood pressure by analyzing images captured using non-contact cameras. This is a technique known as imaging photoplethysmography or remote photoplethysmography. The captured images of the skin can be interpreted by the technology to detect any blood flow phenomena as it pulses through the body. 

While changes in blood pressure are typically attributed to blood volume effects, such as light modulations due to the varying levels of blood in the measured volume, and ballistocardiography effects like movements of arteries and skin due to pulsating blood, the smart glasses can observe these subtle variations and interpret them to determine the condition of the user. 

Image changes can then be analyzed using algorithms to determine Pulse Arrival Time (PAT) - the idea behind this metric being that the speed at which a pulse reaches a region is correlated with the blood pressure; the faster the pulse wave, the higher the pressure. 

The continuous monitoring that Facense performs can be observed through a dedicated app available to smartphone users. Two embedded microphones can study the user’s breathing while air temperature and humidity along with skin temperatures are also heavily observed by the device. 

As we can see, the glasses themselves have a largely innocuous appearance, and besides featuring some larger temples, the design of the smart eyewear could be mistaken for typical, classic style frames that you can find in most eyewear stores. 

Smart Alcohol and Caffeine Monitoring

Along with the measuring of blood pressure and heart rates, a recent development in wearable tech has been created that can continuously monitor the wearer’s glucose levels as well as lactate, alcohol, and caffeine. 

Coming in the form of a soft, stretchy skin patch that’s capable of being worn on the neck to observe the body, commentators have recognized it as the first wearable device that can monitor cardiovascular signals as well as multiple biochemical levels in the body at the same time. 

The discreet device could be significantly beneficial to users who are tasked with managing high blood pressure and diabetes. Given that there is still the specter of COVID-19 looming across many nations around the world - where diabetes sufferers may suffer from severe cases in catching the virus. 

According to a study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the technology could also be used to detect the onset of sepsis, which can be characterized by a swift drop in blood pressure before a quick rise in lactate level. 

Further applications of the patch are that it can perform excellent monitoring of patients in intensive care units, as well as infants in neonatal ICUs who need continuous monitoring of blood pressure and other vital signs. The technology can help hospitals to bypass the hazardous process of inserting catheters inside patients’ arteries and tethering individuals to numerous monitors. 

“The novelty here is that we take completely different sensors and merge them together on a single small platform as small as a stamp,” explained Joseph Wang, a professor of nanoengineering at US San Diego and co-author of the study. “We can collect so much information with this one wearable and do so in a non-invasive way, without causing discomfort or interruptions to daily activity.”

While the application of the technology in treating patients with severe ailments could provide hospitals with potentially life-saving insights into the vitals of individuals, this particular smart wearable could evolve in featuring far more use cases among adopters. 

Because it can read the body’s biochemical levels, the skin patch may be developed into a device that can help to provide perpetual insights into the chemical balance of its users. From offering a quantifiable insight into the alcohol level of a user who is uncertain as to whether they will be over the legal alcohol limit to drive home, to helping others maintain a balanced diet. 

With more citizens becoming considerably more health-conscious following the outbreak of COVID-19, technology that’s capable of monitoring our bodies could be maturing at an excellent time to inspire would-be adopters. 

Imagine using a device that can link up to an app that sends push notifications to your smartphone to let you know your caffeine intake has risen to harmful levels, or that your body has developed a slight deficiency that could be remedied by drinking or eating a certain drink or food. 

The future of health monitoring will be much more comprehensive with the development of technology that can continually operate to make sure we’re okay. Whether the technology of tomorrow will manifest in smart glasses, a patch, or any other form of wearable technology remains to be seen. However, the benefits could lead to a healthier, safer, and happier society. 

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