NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands, December 22, 2010 /Canada NewsWire/ - What if monitoring your heart rate were as easy as listening to music while you jog? Thanks to advances in space technology, an iPhone will soon be able to do double duty: keep you in tune with your favourite artists and your vital signs.
With the support of ESA's Technology Transfer Programme (ESA TTP), Swiss company CSEM created the final prototype for their Pulsear device this year. A tiny unit embedded in a regular earphone uses infrared signals to see how fast your heart is beating. It sends infrared signals through the tissues in your ear. A tiny photo diode records the results and sends the information via the earphone wires to a device that plugs into your phone.
The result is an accurate reading of your heart rate, without the irritation of wearing a chest belt.
"Lots of people listen to music while they exercise and lots of people find the belts uncomfortable," said CSEM's Dr Andrea Ridolfi, "so we thought it made sense to measure heart rate through the ear."
Solution thanks to space-tech
Earlier attempts by CSEM to monitor heart rate using earphones were not satisfactory, said Dr Ridolfi, because the available technology was not sophisticated enough. But that was before CSEM developed a complex chest sensor for measuring astronauts' blood oxygen levels for ESA's Long Term Medical Survey system. "Once we were done," said Dr Ridolfi, "we said, 'let's recycle this'."
With a grant from the ESA TTP's 'Technology Transfer Demonstrator' initiative, CSEM created the prototype. The initiative supports development of new hardware and software to bridge the gap between the space technology and its terrestrial use.
An iPhone application shows your heart rate over time onscreen and compares, say, today's jog with last week's. Subjects who tested the app during their fitness training rated the device highly. While the current prototype measures only heart rate, future versions could easily be adapted to measure additional vital signs such as blood oxygen levels. This would open up a number of medical applications.
"Technology transfer from space has a huge potential to spur innovation in areas you wouldn't expect to find space-tech", explains Frank M. Salzgeber, Head of ESA TTP. "ESA TTP wants to help European industry to apply sophisticated space solutions to their markets."
More information: www.ese.int/ttp