Researchers Develop Ear-Worn Device that Could Lead to Improved Monitoring of Vital Signs

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November 23, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND – Researchers at the Imperial College of London (ICL) have developed an ear-worn sensor to monitor heart, brain and lung function. Their latest study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, suggests the device has the potential as a heart monitor and “opens up a range of new possibilities in the identification and management of heart conditions”.

According to the researchers, the device senses the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the ear canal using the mechanical component of the electro-mechanical sensor. The electrode portion of the sensor detects a full and “clinically valid” electrocardiogram (ECG).

The authors believe their study “paves the way for the incorporation of the cardiac modality into future hearables”.


Ear-worn Hearable Health Monitors


An ear-worn device could also serve as a more convenient way for patients and clinicians to monitor heart health, since traditional ECG testing requires the use of a chest belt being worn for 24 hours. However, using a hearable device, longer usage could be more easily achieved, meaning a more accurate long-term result of the patient’s heart activity could be gathered.


hearable heart monitor vital signs earplug

Prototype device created by ICL researchers.  Image courtesy ICL


The prototype device made by ICL researchers is made of foam and thus molds itself to the shape of the ear like a traditional ear plug. It utilizes mechanical sensors, as well as electrical sensors to detect brain activity.


“This is the latest piece of research on what we think could be a versatile new piece of wearable technology. We’ve now completed a number of tests on our sensor that focused on detecting vital signs within the body. Our early results are proving interesting and, although we are still a way off from seeing it used outside of experiments, we have many exciting avenues to explore.” –Danilo Mandic, PhD, lead study author


The researchers believe the device could hold applications beyond heart monitoring, but could hold future applications in areas like the health and fitness industry, as well as sleep science, fatigue monitoring and even security applications through the monitoring of unique brain signals. 

The aim is to ultimately have the ear-worn device transmit data wirelessly in real-time to clinicians for analysis, which could expand the possibilities and options for patient care in the future.



Hearables: feasibility of recording cardiac rhythms from head and in-ear locations” by Wilhelm von Rosenberg, Theerasak Chanwimalueang, Valentin Goverdovsky, Nicholas S. Peters, Christos Papavassiliou and Danilo P. Mandic, published 15 November 2017 in Royal Society Open Science.


Source: ICL, RSOS

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