As reported by Wired UK, researchers at the Affective Computing Group in the MIT Media Lab and Georgia Institute of Technology have adapted Google Glass to correctly detect pulse rates and respiration rhythms in real-time.

The technology will be made public at the MobiHealth Conference 3-5 November in Greece.

“Google Glass detects these physiological indicators with a very high accuracy when compared to FDA-approved sensors – both pulse and respiration had only about one beat or breath per minute of error,” said lead author and PhD student, Javier Hernandez, while speaking about this new research.

The responses were measured by using a built-in gyroscope, accelerometer and camera in Google Glass. “The data from Google Glass is so much richer than a dedicated heart-rate sensor, because people use it in their regular lives,” said Hernandez. The real-time physiological feedback could show users what causes stress, fear or tranquillity in daily life.

The built-in sensors work by measuring subtle movements of the user’s head. “Every time you breathe, or your heart beats, your body moves in a very subtle way, particularly your head where the Google Glass is mounted,” said Hernandez. “The built-in sensors – the accelerometer, gyroscope and camera – can pick up these very slight movements while you’re completely still, and we can extract the parameters we want, using signal processing algorithms.”

The ability to measure one’s physiology in real-time has benefits other than just measuring day-to-day fitness; it can also be life-saving. “Resting heart rate is associated with cardiovascular disease, so you can determine heart health by detecting these parameters,” said Hernandez. “You can start correlating those parameters with your daily life – if you are having a very stressful time at work, you can see the changes in your data and use that information to change your behaviour or lifestyle.”

Heart-attack or chronic patients are already using their wearable devices, such as Fitbit, to log a specific number of steps each day as part of their recovery regimes; the Glass indicators can provide further accurate feedback. “Some of the most effective stress interventions make you breathe at a specific rate; your body relaxes at seven breaths per minute. So it’s a good way to keep tabs on your stress,” said Hernandez.

In the future Hernandez wants to use Google Glass to detect the wearer’s emotions. “It has a camera to provide context about who you are speaking to and where you are, which combined with physiological signs, can infer your emotional state,” concluded Hernandez.

This latest research is in response to the increasing use of wearables to track health and fitness. Big organisations such as Apple have joined the bandwagon by releasing HealthKit and Samsung with its SAMI platform.

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