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Engineers invent way to turn face masks into smart health monitoring devices

The app that ties to the device - the size of a penny - could alert the user when a leak in the mask arises, or if their heart rate is too fast.

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A Hispanic man with a tattoo sleeve wearing sportswear, a black mask, and a watch
(Photo by Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

By Joe Morgan via SWNS

Engineers have found a way to turn any old face mask into a Fitbit-style smart health monitor.

A tiny magnet attaches the device to any cloth or surgical mask, and it can then monitor the wearer's health, sense their heartbeat, and even monitor how well the mask fits.

The app that ties to the device - the size of a penny - could alert the user when a leak in the mask arises, or if their heart rate is too fast.

FaceBit outside of a mask, next to its small battery. (Northwestern University / SWNS)

Physiological data could also be used to predict fatigue, physical health status and emotional state.

The device - nicknamed FaceBit - is charged by the force of the user's breath, heat from breath, as well as drawing from solar energy.

According to the researchers, every time a person’s heartbeats, their head moves an imperceptibly tiny amount.

About the size of a quarter, FaceBit clips onto any mask with a small magnet. (Northwestern University / SWNS)

FaceBit can sense that subtle motion — and differentiate it from other motions — in order to calculate heart rate.

The hope is that FaceBit could be used to better assess clinicians in order to give them breaks when they need them.

In the study, researchers found that FaceBit’s accuracy was similar to clinical-grade devices and the battery lasted longer than 11 days between charges.

Dr. Josiah Hester, who led the device development at Northwestern University in the US, said: "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.

“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.”

He added: “FaceBit provides a first step toward practical on-face sensing and inference and provides a sustainable, convenient, comfortable option for general health monitoring for Covid-19 frontline workers and beyond.

“I’m really excited to hand this off to the research community to see what they can do with it."

The device was described in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

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