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February 13, 2024

New Thermal Earring Offers Potential for Illness Monitoring

The advent of wearable technology has taken another fashionable turn with the introduction of Thermal Earrings, which offer continuous monitoring of earlobe temperature to track wellness indicators, researchers reveal.

Developed by the University of Washington (UW), these smart earrings surpass the capabilities of traditional smartwatches in sensing skin temperature during periods of rest, as evidenced by a small-scale study involving six users.

According to the UW researchers, the Thermal Earring holds promise in helping users monitor various signs of health, including illness, stress, exercise, eating habits, and ovulation.

"I wear a smartwatch to track my personal health, but I've found that a lot of people think smartwatches are unfashionable or bulky and uncomfortable," noted Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue, a doctoral student at UW's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering in Seattle.

Resembling a small paperclip in size and weight, the smart earring prototype boasts an impressive 28-day battery life. It comprises a magnetic clip attaching one temperature sensor to the wearer's earlobe, with another sensor dangling about an inch below to estimate room temperature.

Not compromising on style, these earrings can be adorned with fashion designs made of resin or gemstones without sacrificing accuracy, as confirmed by researchers.

"The earrings can be decorated with fashion designs made of resin or with gemstones without affecting their accuracy," explained Xue.

However, engineering such a wearable posed challenges, particularly in ensuring a balance between size and functionality to maintain prolonged battery life. The solution involved fitting a Bluetooth chip, battery, two temperature sensors, and an antenna into the earring while optimizing data delivery to conserve power.

Instead of directly pairing with a device, the earring leverages Bluetooth advertising mode to transmit data, conserving energy by entering deep sleep after each reading.

The potential of earlobe temperature monitoring extends beyond wellness tracking, offering insights into medical and research applications. Studies have shown significant variations in earlobe temperature associated with fever, making the Thermal Earring a viable option for fever monitoring.

"In medicine, we often monitor fevers to assess response to therapy -- to see, for instance, if an antibiotic is working on an infection," explained co-author Dr. Mastafa Springston, a clinical instructor of emergency medicine at the UW School of Medicine.

Moreover, the earrings successfully detect temperature variations related to eating, exercise, stress, and ovulation, providing valuable health insights.

As the researchers continue to refine the earring's algorithms and explore additional functionalities like heart rate and activity monitoring, the future of wearable health technology appears promising.

The study detailing the Thermal Earring's development and capabilities was published Monday in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Revolutionary Prosthetic Hand Offers Realistic Temperature Sensation

A groundbreaking prosthetic hand equipped with advanced sensors is revolutionizing the way amputees experience touch, providing a realistic and real-time sense of temperature, a new study reveals.

Fabrizio, a 57-year-old man from Pistoia, Italy, who lost his hand 37 years ago, was amazed by the sensation he felt when touching one of the researchers who'd given him the prosthetic hand. "When one of the researchers placed the sensor on his own body, I could feel the warmth of another person with my phantom hand," Fabrizio shared. "It was a very strong emotion for me, it was like reactivating a connection with someone."

The prosthetic hand, detailed in a report published in the journal Med, is equipped with cutting-edge sensors that provide realistic thermal feedback to the wearer. This marks the first time that natural temperature sensation has been incorporated into a functional artificial limb.

"This is one of the last frontiers to restoring sensation to robotic hands. For the first time, we're really close to restoring the full palette of sensations to amputees," said co-senior study author Silvestro Micera, a professor of biorobotics research at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.

Named the "MiniTouch," the device uses off-the-shelf electronics and does not require surgery to restore temperature sensation to patients, making it a simple yet groundbreaking innovation.

In the study, researchers linked the device to a point on Fabrizio's remaining forearm, allowing him to experience thermal sensations from a phantom index finger. With the MiniTouch, Fabrizio demonstrated remarkable accuracy in discriminating between objects of different temperatures, a feat not achievable without the device.

Fabrizio's ability to differentiate between bottles containing cold, cool, and hot water significantly improved with the use of the MiniTouch. Blindfolded tests also showed enhanced accuracy in distinguishing between human and prosthetic arms, thanks to the warmth sensation provided by the device.

"Adding temperature information makes the touch more human-like. We think having the ability to sense temperature will improve amputees' embodiment -- the feeling that 'this hand is mine,'" explained co-senior researcher Solaiman Shokur, chair of translational neuroengineering with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

This breakthrough feedback system is crucial for creating prosthetic hands that mimic the functionality of real ones. "When you reach a certain level of dexterity with robotic hands, you really need to have sensory feedback to really be able to use the robotic hand to its full potential," Shokur emphasized.

Moving forward, the researchers aim to develop a multimodal system integrating touch, proprioception, and temperature sensations, further enhancing the capabilities of prosthetic limbs. With such advancements, individuals will be able to perceive detailed tactile information, enabling them to distinguish between various textures and temperatures, ultimately enhancing their quality of life and restoring a sense of normalcy.