Building Intelligent Health and Fitness Wearables

Tuesday 4/27/21 08:24am
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Posted By Pankaj Kedia
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Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Wearables are being used in new and interesting ways and have gained prominence amongst consumers for several years now. For example, the latest smartwatches bring high performance to your wrist with camera and video use cases. And they include a series of sensor-based experiences such as heart rate, sleep, and ECG, which are increasingly always connected with 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Advances in chip design are driving wearable technology. This advancement has led to smaller, sleeker form factors and the integration of technologies such as AI at the edge, wireless communications, and integrations with sensors while continuously extending battery life.

The opportunity for global wearables is growing, with one report estimating the number of shipped wearables will grow from 266.3 million units in 2020 to over 776 million units by 2026. Another report indicates that the global commercialization for wearable medical and healthcare devices alone was worth 16.6 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compounded rate of 26.8% through to 2028.

Health and fitness wearables are particularly interesting because of the positive benefits these devices can bring to the health, safety, and wellbeing of individuals, patients, and workers around the world. From detecting falls to monitoring vital signs and even facilitating remote doctor visits, wearables are poised to help drive proactive healthcare in many ways.

In this blog, we’ll explore recent trends in wearable technology designed for the detection, prevention, and alerting of ailments and health-related events and explore how wearables can promote personal accountability and interest in health and fitness monitoring. We’ll also take a look at the Qualcomm® Snapdragon Wear™ 4100+ and 4100 Platforms (SDW4100+/SDW4100 SoCs), part of the Snapdragon Wear platforms series of SoCs, for developing rich, responsive wearable solutions.

Wearables in Healthcare and Fitness Today

Wearables are currently being used in many areas of healthcare and fitness today. In rehabilitation and therapy, they are used to formulate and adjust training programs while providing doctors and therapists with information about flexibility, strength, and wellness. Similarly, wearables are used in sports medicine to monitor functional movements, workloads, heart rate, and ECG to maximize performance and minimize injuries.

The measurement of vital signs is an area where wearables can be truly valuable. Examples include blood monitoring, where they measure blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as pain management (e.g., a wearable EEG reader senses pain or discomfort levels and generates content on an app to distract the wearer).

Sleep aids are another popular class of wearables as they can help in dealing with stress, sleeplessness, insomnia, and other issues. These devices can take various measurements such as movements, brain activity, and heart rate and can even provide a feedback loop by playing relaxing sounds that are adjusted accordingly.

Movement tracking is another interesting area where wearables shine. Using GPS and other sensors, use cases range from tracking locations of individuals who may become lost to monitoring activity levels for programs such as weight management.

Healthcare organizations are also taking advantage of wearables. For example, health insurance companies are supplying customers with health-tracking wearables to reduce the risk of insuring them while incentivizing customers to lead healthier lifestyles. And the integration of wearables into electronic health records stored by doctors offers the potential to build a more comprehensive and up-to-date picture of a patient’s health.

Advantages of Wearable Technology in Healthcare and Fitness

The technology behind wearables brings several inherent benefits to the healthcare and fitness sectors. For starters, powerful onboard processors can execute processing at the edge, ranging from sophisticated fall-detection algorithms that use onboard sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes to advanced AI models like neural networks.

Other sensors (e.g., biometric patches) allow wearables to collect and analyze a range of data types such as fitness activity levels (e.g., number of steps), vital signs (e.g., heart rate), and blood glucose levels. With this information, the consumer (or “wearer”) and even third-party stakeholders such as physicians can monitor and track the data to watch for trends. The data can also be used to predict events such as the risk of a heart attack and send out alerts or open up direct communications with a caregiver. And with the ability to process data collected by sensors at the edge, data can be analyzed at the source, potentially limiting the amount of data to be sent to the cloud.

In terms of connectivity, wearables have traditionally been tethered to the smartphone via Bluetooth. Increasingly, however, wearables are integrating cellular technologies with 4G LTE becoming mainstream, allowing consumers to always stay connected with their families, doctors, and their data.

Finally, while healthcare is a serious matter, monitoring it can be fun. Wearables add the potential to introduce gamification and increase engagement when tracking progress and working towards healthcare or fitness targets. As we saw in this blog, gamification can encourage patients to become more committed to their health, as confirmed by 75% of users.

Wearable Form Factors Available Today

Healthcare and fitness wearables can take on many form factors. Some of those in use today include:

  • Smartwatches: The rapid adoption of smartwatches has proven the wrist is a logical place for wearables. A smartwatch is easy to glance at in meetings, on the run, or while waiting in a queue and provides a good place for keeping track of one’s vitals, including heart rate, ECG, sleep, and movement.
  • Smart trackers: The tracker segment is fast emerging and provides flexibility to wear one not just on your wrist but also as a pendant or as an accessory attached to your handbag or backpack. Additionally, consumers are using trackers for their pets to locate where they are and ensure they stay healthy too.
  • Headsets, Headbands, and Earbuds: These form factors can be used to measure a range of vital signs, including EEG for brain activity or heart rate via the earbuds.
  • Rings: The ring is emerging as another comfortable accessory wearable device, packed with sensors and convenient to track and improve sleeping habits.
  • Smart Shoe Inserts: Smart insoles for shoes can monitor movements like walking (e.g., pressure mapping and monitoring of foot muscle movements), provide location tracking via GPS, and even control shoe temperature.
  • Body Sensors: Biosensors in the form of skin patches can measure everything from temperature to blood glucose levels, movements, oxygen, and restfulness levels. UV sensors measure exposure to UV sunlight and can either be worn on the skin or pinned on clothing.

Enter Snapdragon Wear

The Snapdragon Wear 4100+ and 4100 Platforms (SDW4100+/SDW4100 SoCs) are designed to deliver low-power, high-impact performance and sensor-rich experiences for a wide range of wearables. Wearables include smartwatches for children, adults, and seniors, smart trackers for pets, kids, and valuables, and a range of accessory options.

The SDW4100 family, powered with a quad-core ARM Cortex A53 processor running up to 2GHz, comes integrated with a high-performance Adreno 504 GPU, a rich memory sub-system, and a dual-camera ISP capable of supporting up to 16MP. This highly-capable SoC can be used to deliver a truly immersive experience with fast app downloads, concurrent use cases, rich photo/video experiences, and a smarter, responsive UX. The companion Always On (AON) co-processor is designed to support use cases such as Continuous Heart Rate Monitoring (CHRM) and sleep tracking while consuming ultra-low power. As with our other SoCs, the SDW4100 also includes dual Qualcomm® Hexagon™ Digital Signal Processors (DSP) – one dedicated for cellular and GPS while the other for sensor processing. In conjunction with the AON co-processor, the DSP is capable of running the broad range of sensors to deliver a rich, engaging health and fitness experience. The SDW4100 family runs on Android Open Source Project (AOSP) as well as Wear OS by Google.

Developers interested in building devices and applications for the SDW4100 family should check out the TurboX SDW4100 Development Kit from Thundercomm. The kit includes an AMOLED display, SIM card support, multiple connectivity methods, a PPG heart rate sensor, and various input options. Developers can also take advantage of our Snapdragon SDKs and tools, including the Hexagon DSP SDK, Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ Power Optimization SDK, Snapdragon Profiler, and others available through the Software link on Qualcomm Developer Network.

Conclusion

Today’s wearables offer many benefits for getting fit and staying healthy. From smartwatches to smart trackers, wearables are harnessing the power of technology in new and innovative ways. And with SoCs like our SDW4100, developers can build a range of devices in convenient and comfortable form factors.

If you have an interesting health and fitness wearable project built with our technology, tell us about it on our Developer of the Month page, and we may feature it on QDN.


Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear, Qualcomm Hexagon, Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Qualcomm Adreno are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.