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Apple gets a patent for health-monitoring ear buds

The system could also control mobile devices through gestures

February 18, 2014 03:10 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple today was awarded a patent for a monitoring system that could be placed in ear buds or other devices to record things such as body temperature, heart rate and perspiration levels.

The patent, first reported by Apple Insider, shows a wearable system designed to monitor user activity, such as during exercise or sporting activities.

Ear buds
A diagram showing the monitoring device (186) as detachable from ear buds.

Because the ear buds are in contact with the skin and ear cavities, they can also sense body characteristics and collect that as biometric data.

The monitoring system would not necessarily be permanently attached to ear buds, though it could be. Because the technology could be detachable, it could used on other devices, such as headphones and headsets.

"In still another embodiment, the monitoring system can be provided within a housing attached to a cord utilized by the headphones, earbuds or headsets," the patent summary says. "In yet another embodiment, the monitoring system can be attached to a user's clothing. In these various embodiments, the headphones, earbuds or headsets can be wired or wireless."

The patent states that the activity and health monitoring system can also be used to control an electronic device, such as a smartphone, using one or more head gestures.

ear buds
The monitoring device on a headphone or ear bud cord.

The monitoring device would have sensors, such as an accelerometer, a gyroscope, or some other motion sensor that could be used to detect the pitch, roll and/or yaw of a person's head. Using those sensors, a user could input commands to an attached electronic device.

So, by tilting your head to the right, left, backward or forward, or even rotating it to the left or right "an entire head gesture language may be developed," according to the patent.

For example, head gestures could be used to scroll, browse or select a function.

"For example, a rotate head or tilt head to right can cause a next item/page action to the right. Subsequently, holding one's head in the tilted position can cause the speed of the action to increase until head returns to normal position," the patent states. "The head gestures can have various meanings depending on application. For example, the same head gesture can initiate a different action in different applications."

Ear bud
A diagram showing the monitoring device as part of the ear piece (number 148) on a set of ear buds.

The gestures could be used for binary or analog commands. A binary command could simply change the mobile device from one state to another. An analogue command would change a device function.

"...In one example, a head bobbing can be used in a manner similar to Morse code in order to provide text input commands," the patent states. "Further, 'noise' filtering can be provided so as to reduce erroneous detection of gestures during regular head movements."

covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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