Reliability Check: Consumer And Research-Grade Wrist-Worn Heart Rate Monitors

Wearables are ubiquitous in today’s society. Such devices have evolved in their capabilities from step counters to devices that measure calories burnt, sleep, and heart rate. It’s pretty common to meet people using a wearable or two to track their fitness goals. However, a big question remains unanswered. How accurate are these wearable devices? Researchers from the Big Ideas Lab evaluated a group of wearables to assess their accuracy in measuring heart rate.

Unlike other studies with similar intentions, the Big Ideas Lab specifically wanted to address whether skin color had an effect on the accuracy of the heart rate measurements, and an FDA-cleared Bittium Faros 180 electrocardiogram was used as the benchmark. Overall, the researchers found that there was no difference in accuracy across skin tones, meaning that the same wearable will measure heart rate on a darker skin-toned individual the same as it would on a lighter skin-toned. Phew!

However, that may be the only good news for those wanting to use their wearable to accurately monitor their heart rate. The researchers found the overall accuracy of the devices relative to ECG was a bit variable with average errors of 7.2 beats per minute (BPM) in the consumer-grade wearables and 13.9 BPM in the research-grade wearables at rest. During activity, errors in the consumer-grade wearables climbed to an average of 10.2 BPM and 15.9 in the research-grade wearables. It’s interesting to see that the research-grade devices actually performed worse than the consumer devices.

And there’s a silver lining if you’re an Apple user. The Apple Watch performed consistently better than all other devices with mean errors between 4-5 BPM during rest and during activity, unless you’re breathing deeply, which threw the Apple for a loop.

So, it seems as if wrist-worn heart rate monitors still have some work to do where accuracy is concerned. Although skin tone isn’t a worry, they all become less accurate when the subject is moving around.

If you’d like to try your own hand with fitness trackers, have a look at this completely open project, or go for the gold standard with a wearable DIY ECG.

Arduino Heart Rate Monitor Has Star Trek Chic

Building a real-life version of the Star Trek tricorder has been the goal of engineers and hackers alike since the first time Dr McCoy complained about being asked to work outside of his job description. But while modern technology has delivered gadgets remarkably similar in function, we’ve still got a long way to go before we replicate 24th century Starfleet design aesthetic. Luckily there’s a whole world of dedicated hackers out there who are willing to take on the challenge.

[Taste The Code] is one such hacker. He wanted to build himself a practical gadget that looked like it would be at home on Picard’s Enterprise, so he gathered up the components to build a hand-held heart rate monitor and went in search for a suitable enclosure. The electronics were simple enough to put together thanks to the high availability and modularity we enjoy in a post-Arduino world, but as you might expect it’s somewhat more difficult to put it into a package that looks suitably sci-fi while remaining functional.

Internally his heart rate monitor is using an Arduino Pro Mini, a small OLED screen, and a turn-key pulse sensor which was originally conceived as a Kickstarter in 2011 by “World Famous Electronics”. Wiring is very simple: the display is connected to the Arduino via I2C, and the pulse sensor hooks up to a free analog pin. Everything is powered by 3 AA batteries delivering 4.5 V, so he didn’t even need a voltage regulator or the extra components required for a rechargeable battery pack.

Once everything was confirmed working on a breadboard, [Taste The Code] started the process of converting a handheld gyroscopic toy into the new home of his heart rate monitor. He kept the battery compartment in the bottom, but everything else was stripped out to make room. One hole was made on the pistol grip case so that a finger tip could rest on the pulse sensor, and another made on the side for the OLED screen. This lets the user hold the device in a natural way while getting a reading. He mentions the sensor can be a bid fiddly, but overall it gives accurate enough readings for his purposes.

If you’re more interested in the practical aspects of a real-life Star Trek tricorder we’ve seen several projects along those lines over the years, including a few that were entered into the Hackaday Prize.

Continue reading “Arduino Heart Rate Monitor Has Star Trek Chic”

Hacking Touch Screens To Count Pulses

Heart rate sensors available for DIY use employ photoplethysmography which illuminates the skin and measures changes in light absorption. These sensors are cheap, however, the circuitry required to interface them to other devices is not. [Petteri Hyvärinen] is successfully investigating the use of capacitive touchscreens for heart rate sensing among other applications.

The capacitive sensor layer on modern-day devices has a grid of elements to detect touch. Typically there is an interfacing IC that translates the detected touches into filtered digital numbers that can be used by higher level applications. [optisimon] first figured out a way to obtain the raw data from a touch screen. [Petteri Hyvärinen] takes the next step by using a Python script to detect time variations in the data obtained. The refresh rate of the FT5x06 interface is adequate and the data is sent via an Arduino in 35-second chunks to the PC over a UART. The variations in the signal are very small, however, by averaging and then using the autocorrelation function, the signal was positively identified as a pulse.

A number of applications could benefit from this technique if the result can be replicated on other devices. Older devices could possibly be recycled to become low-cost medical equipment at a fraction of the cost. There is also the IoT side of things where the heart-rate response to media such as news, social media and videos could be used to classify content.

Check out our take on the original hack for capacitive touch imaging as well as using a piezoelectric sensor for the same application.

Easy-Peasy Heart Monitor

If you’re at all into medical hacks, you’ve doubtless noticed that the medical industry provides us with all manner of shiny toys to play with. Case in point is a heart-monitoring IC that’s so brand new, it’s not even available in all of the usual distributors yet. [Ashwin], who runs a small prototyping-supplies company, ProtoCentral, has been playing around with the new MAX30003 ECG chip, and the results look great.

The punchline is that the four-to-five dollar chip does everything for you, including analog filtering, wander removal, and even detecting the pulse rate. Using the chip is simple: you plug in two electrodes on one end, and you get the waveform data out over SPI on the other, with little or no work to do on the microprocessor side. The Arduino in the examples is just passing the SPI data straight to the laptop, with no processing going on at all.

[Ashwin] is selling these as breakout boards, but everything is open source, from the hardware to the GUI, so check it out if you’re interested in building your own. In particular, the circuit is just a voltage regulator and five volt level shifter.

Everything we know about electrocardiography projects, we learned from this presentation, and it looks like the devil is in the (many) details, so it’s nice to offload them to custom silicon whenever possible. We just think it’s awesome that we can scoop up some of the giant medical industry’s crumbs to play around with.

Measuring Heart Rate With A Piezo

Look around for heart rate sensors that interface easily to microcontrollers, and you’ll come up with a few projects that use LEDs and other microcontrollers to do the dirty work of filtering out pulses in a wash of light.

[Thomas] was working on a project that detects if water is flowing through a pipe with a few piezoelectric sensors. Out of curiosity, he taped the sensor to his finger, and to everyone’s surprise, the values his microcontroller were spitting out were an extremely noise-free version of his heart rate.

The piezo in question is a standard, off the shelf module, and adding this to a microcontroller is as easy as putting the piezo on an analog pin. From there, it’s just averaging measurements and extracting a heartbeat from the data.

It’s a much simpler solution to measuring a heart rate, and since two people haven’t heard of this technique, it’s likely a lot more people haven’t heard of this technique either. If you’re looking for an entry to The Hackaday Prize, this would be a great jumping off point for anything in either the fitness or medical domains.

Measuring Meditation With A Heart Rate

meditation

We’ve seen our fair share of builds over the years that attempt to peer inside a user’s head and divine their state of mind. Whether the goal is to induce lucid dreaming or just reduce anxiety, we’re always impressed with how many ways you can detect moods with physiological measurements.  [Kirk] has been measuring his own physiology for months, and found the biggest change during meditation is the variability in his heart rate. Using that algorithm, he made an orb that changes colors when he’s meditating.

The hardware for the build uses a Bluetooth LE heart rate monitor connected to a smart phone communicating with an Electric Imp. After processing the heart rate data, the Imp triggers an RGB LED strip controlled with an Arduino.  The result is a plastic orb that glows whenever the user is displaying some sort of mindfulness, cross referenced with algorithm generated from mindlessly browsing the Internet.

Fitting A Cold, Metal Heart In An Altoids Tin

sim

[James] has been building a heart rate monitor using a very cool TI chip. He needed a way to test his device, and commercial ECG simulators, like all biotech devices, are absurdly expensive. [James] decided to build his own heart rate simulator, and in the process made a great tool and one of the most well documented projects we’ve ever seen.

Of course, if you’re building an ECG simulator, you’re going to need a good sample of a heart’s electrical pattern. To get this sample, [James] found an old army manual with a diagram of an ideal ECG pattern. [James] took this PDF manual, screen capped the diagram, and used a Python script to generate an array in C the Arduino could repeat over and over.

The rest of the build consisted of a D/A converter, a pot to change the heart rate, a very nice seven-segment display, and a few banana jacks to connect to [James]’ heart monitor. Everything is up in a git, including an amazingly well documented (87 pages!) tutorial for building your own Arduino heart simulator.