This device attaches magnetically to a face mask to monitor the wearer’s vitals

Perhaps 2022 will be the year consumer health tracking moves beyond the wrist. We’ve seen Oura’s rise over the past few years and a CES that brought with it a couple of ring fitness trackers. Following Google’s addition to vital and sleep tracking on the Nest Home, Sengled is adding the feature to a smart lightbulb.

So, why not the face mask? Health-related face coverings have long been a fixture in a number of countries, like China, and are pretty much everywhere in this pandemic world. It’s hard to say whether mainstream adoption of masks will outlive COVID-19 in the U.S., but as the pandemic drags on, it seems increasingly likely that they’ll remain a part of daily lives for the foreseeable future.

Image Credits: Northwestern University

The face is a solid position from which to monitor certain vitals, and the widespread adoption of masks offers a relatively fixed spot to collect that data. Accordingly, a team at Northwestern University is showing off FaceBit — the “FitBit for the Face” — which attaches to an N95, surgical or cloth mask via magnet. From there, it’s able to monitor respiratory and heart rate, as well as time spent in the mask.

“We wanted to design an intelligent face mask for health care professionals that does not need to be inconveniently plugged in during the middle of a shift,” team leader Josiah Hester said in a statement. “We augmented the battery’s energy with energy harvesting from various sources, which means that you can wear the mask for a week or two without having to charge or replace the battery.”

The system, which was recently detailed in a paper, can also determine mask fit — an issue for anyone not accustomed to using a mask. If the mask loosens or is bumped out of place, the connected app will send an alert to the wearer. Currently, the system’s battery lasts around 11 days on a charge, though the team is envisioning a battery-free version, powered by things like thermal and kinetic energy.

The product will need to undergo further clinical trials before proceeding, though the project has also been offered up as an open source product for those interested.

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