Consumer health tracking was previously limited to the wearer’s wrist. Now, it appears to have moved from the wrist to other aspects. As face masks are going to be with us for the foreseeable future on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, these face coverings are getting health monitoring capabilities.
Notably, the face enables mornings certain vitals and the use of masks offers a fixed spot to get this data. Utilising this, a team at Northwestern University has showcased a new product called FaceBit, which is touted to be “FitBit for the Face”.
The FaceBit can be attached to the N95, surgical or cloth face masks via magnet. As a result, it can monitor the respiratory and heart rate and the time spent in the mask as well. What’s interesting is that the FaceBit alerts wearers of the leak in their mask.
FaceBit, FitBit for the Face
The FaceBit is a new smart sensor that can turn any face mask into a Fitbit-style health monitoring device. The quarter-sized can be attached to a face to predict the wearer’s fatigue levels and emotional state.
The sensor transfers all the data wirelessly to a connected smartphone app so that users can keep a check on their health in real-time. In situations such as a mask leak or any possible health risk such as a high heart rate, it will immediately alert the user.
FaceBit gets the power from a tiny small battery, which keeps it charged from the force of the user’s breath. Also, it can be charged from the heat emanating from the wearer and solar power. As per developers, FaceBit can last for as many as 11 days on a full charge. Moreover, the team has envisioned a battery-free version, which will get the power from thermal and kinetic energy.
In a statement, the lead designer Josiah Hester, Breed Junior Professor of Design at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering said, “FaceBit provides a first step toward practical on-face sensing and inference and provides a sustainable, convenient, comfortable option for general health monitoring for COVID-19 frontline workers and beyond. I’m really excited to hand this off to the research community to see what they can do with it.”
Targeted at medical staff
Hester explained that they had interviewed doctors, nurses and medical assistants regarding what they want from a smart mask. As a result, they wanted to focus on the fit, especially during the pandemic and while treating infectious patients.
Existing hospital mask fit tests for N95s require the wearer to use a plastic hood and remain blasted with huge amounts of aerosols, until they can taste them. If they can detect the taste quickly, then their masks are too loose. The team intends to streamline the process and help notify wearers if their masks are too loose or start to leak.
FaceBit has cleared the first round of testing on volunteers and is yet to undergo clinical trials to know if it is to alert mask leaking. Already, the engineers behind this sensor have released the design as open source and open hardware so that any company or individual can produce it.