Electronic Jewelry for Health

Photo: Biometric bracelet

Tests of the prototype bio-
impedance biometric bracelet;
© Eli Burak ’00

mHealth is a rapidly growing field where technology helps you or your physician monitor your health through mobile devices. This approach can offer more accurate and timely diagnoses as well as lower health costs. However, smartphones are often used to transmit collected medical information, and these transmissions are vulnerable to hacking.

David Kotz ’86 guides a research group whose focus is mHealth. Their wide-ranging skills are being brought to bear in a field that is redefining the relationship between patient and doctor.

Collection and communication of medical information via mHealth systems can help a physician monitor patients with chronic diseases or other medical concerns on a more frequent basis. The ability to look at the data remotely and assess a patient’s condition might also mean fewer trips to the hospital or the doctor’s office.

One of the Institute’s intriguing wearable devices under development has actually been christened “Amulet,” first announced at a conference in February 2012. Its foremost feature would be a wireless communication capability, possibly using something like Bluetooth. As envisioned, Amulet would function as a communications hub for mHealth devices on a person’s body, akin to a local area network, ultimately connecting them to an electronic medical records system.

“We see our Amulet concept as a means to collect body-area sensor data,” Kotz explains. “The device could collect electrocardiogram signals from a heart monitor, obtain glucose readings from a glucose meter, and even talk to your insulin pump to control the insulin injections.”

Looking like a fancy digital watch, incorporating a display and computing capabilities, Amulet’s ultimate utility would hinge on its ability to accurately and securely communicate and correlate the collected sensor data.

Another jewelry-like mHealth device, the “bracelet” could be functionally integrated with the Amulet. The bracelet applies a tiny alternating current to a person’s skin at different frequencies, to which each person’s body seems to respond uniquely. These unique responses, based on variations in body tissue shape and thickness, could represent a person’s biometric “fingerprint,” expressed in terms of bioimpedance—a measure of how the body’s tissues resist the electric current.

“We imagine a device that can be worn on the wrist and unobtrusively recognize its wearer,” says Kotz. “Without any other action on the part of the user, the devices discover each other’s presence and recognize that they are on the same body.” This network learns from the unique electrical signature of the wrist device whose body they are on. The network’s own configuration could then be used as a basis for encryption in establishing reliable and secure external communications.

MEDICA.de; Source: Darmouth College