Unlocking Your Health Secrets: The Hidden Potential of Earbud Technology

Tuesday 6/6/23 07:52am
Posted By Morris Novello
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How much can earbuds tell you about your health? Quite a bit.

Earbud technology from MindMics measures the low-frequency vibrations generated by arteries, fluids, bones and muscles near the ear canal. The MindMics product takes advantage of sensors in earbuds powered by the Qualcomm QCC5141 system-on-chip and Qualcomm QCC5171 platform for insights to heart health, performance and stress recovery.

From monitoring black holes to monitoring health

The founder of MindMics, Dr. Anna Barnacka, regularly worked with precision instruments to monitor black holes. She realized she could measure phenomena in deep space more accurately than she could measure her own vital signs. The founder found that consumer wearables for health monitoring were either too cumbersome and impractical or dependent on imprecise techniques like photoplethysmography (PPG), which detects blood-volume changes optically.

Barnacka began working on wearable digital health technology that would leapfrog typical consumer wearables in design, precision, and measurement granularity. Instead of extracting cardiovascular measurements from optical data, she focused on infrasonic hemodynography (IH) to measure the low-frequency vibrations generated by vital organs. She arrived at a way of using in-ear headphones, or earbuds, to capture the vibrations, then to map the vibrations as an acoustic waveform.

The result was a method of in-ear IH and a technology platform that uses sensors embedded in earbuds for continuous, accurate monitoring health.

Integrating technology to infrasonic hemodynography

Like typical wireless earbuds, the MindMics design for in-ear headphones with embedded IH technology can play audio; the important difference is that it can simultaneously collect IH signals. A microphone integrated to each headphone measures fluctuations in in-ear acoustic pressure associated with heart sounds and vascular hemodynamics. The IH signals are captured below the range of human hearing (20 Hz to 20 kHz), ensuring minimal interference between the signals and any audio moving through the headphone speaker.

In the wireless design shown below, the system consists of an earbud and a controller that can communicate with mobile devices such as smartphones via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

Each earbud contains a microphone that is also sensitive to detect infrasound (d) that does not use a transmitter to send a signal; thus, the additional electric power required to operate the sensor is minimal.

The system acquires a continuous stream of IH data and forwards it from the chipset to the mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy. Software on the mobile device formats the raw data and sends it to the cloud using a secure communication protocol (Message Queue Telemetry Transport, MQTT). In the cloud, the data is stored and processed in quantities far beyond those available on the device. However, some of the computations like heart rate could be also performed on the device based on partner needs.

The MindMics technology is compatible with the QCC5141 and QCC5171 processors, and they chose to work with the chipsets for its wireless design (shown below) because they are premium-tier, single-chip solutions, optimized for truly wireless earbuds and hearables. Both chipsets are power-efficient for long battery life, and they provide adaptive active noise cancellation, which improves audio quality in noisy environments.

In particular, the QCC5171 SoC meets MindMics' needs because it is designed to process a high volume of data messages with minimal latency, allowing for real-time audio processing. It also has a programmable DSP, which provides more customization and flexibility in audio processing.

In addition to its groundbreaking technology, MindMics offers an infrasonic lab that can be utilized for research and development (R&D) projects and clinical studies. This state-of-the-art lab provides an ideal environment for exploring the potential applications of infrasonic hemodynography (IH) in various fields, including health monitoring and diagnostics.

The infrasonic lab at MindMics is equipped with advanced sensors, data analysis tools, and expertise to conduct comprehensive studies on the low-frequency vibrations generated by vital organs. Researchers and partners can leverage this facility to further investigate the capabilities of in-ear IH technology, develop innovative solutions, and validate its accuracy and effectiveness in different clinical scenarios.

By collaborating with MindMics and utilizing their infrasonic lab, organizations can accelerate their research efforts and gain valuable insights into cardiovascular health, performance optimization, stress recovery, and more. Whether it's exploring new use cases, refining algorithms, or conducting clinical trials, MindMics' infrasonic lab provides a reliable and controlled environment for cutting-edge R&D and evidence-based studies.

Clinical accuracy in a consumer wearable

Naturally, consumers want to see metrics like heart rate, interbeat interval and heart rate variability. The MindMics technology provides those so users can take action to reduce stress levels and improve their overall health.

But the technology goes far beyond offering convenient health monitoring in a consumer wearable – it offers the precision of advanced medical devices.

MindMics is pursuing a clinically rigorous development pathway to ensure the usefulness and accuracy of their technology. They present evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of using IH in a consumer wearable to monitor detailed cardiac function, including the potential to identify complex disorders like atrial fibrillation and aortic stenosis. In fact, studies demonstrate that MindMics can measure the time between heartbeats with accuracy equivalent to that of an electrocardiogram (ECG) – the clinical gold standard.

That accuracy may eventually result in technically reliable, consumer-measured vital signs like heart rate and variability, with the convenience of donning earbuds.

New avenues in cardiovascular monitoring

The fact that the IH signal can be captured with minimal interference from speaker audio allows for new methods of physical acoustical tuning. Wearables today showcase heart rate and heart rate variability averages on a delayed basis. The numbers are not in real-time. While averages are insightful, it does not tell the whole story. Not only does MindMics cloud coverage showcase the numbers in real-time, but MindMics has also created a dashboard to interpret what is the physiological state the user is in. The dashboard can show users when they are in the Calm state perfect for recovery, and when to go to sleep, the Alert state (Fight or Flight), perfect when you exercise and have short episodes of physiologically demanding tasks like presentations, important and maybe stressful meeting, and other things that might put our body in the state of being alert. The system trains users to recover from stress using breathing exercises with integrated real-time bio feedback.

The impetus behind the creation of MindMics technology was the search for a way to manage stress. Ever since the company determined that earbuds could detect heartbeats, new avenues of product development and clinical study in cardiovascular monitoring have opened. MindMics is excited to work with partners, such as their fellow members of the Qualcomm Advantage Network, to expand its monitoring capabilities to other aspects of health, such as motion and sleep.

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