Feb. 14, 2022 -- Millions of people wear activity monitors like Fitbits or Apple Watches that track their steps, sleep, heart rate, and other metrics. And millions of people have gotten used to wearing face masks to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Now, scientists have combined these two to create FaceBit: a device that fits inside a mask and can monitor respiration, heart rate, and even how well the mask fits or when it's time to replace it.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, a group of researchers at Northwestern University designed a smart sensor about the size of a quarter. The device, dubbed FaceBit, attaches with a tiny magnet inside a surgical, cloth, or respirator face mask, such an N95, KN95, or KF94. The device is powered by a rechargeable internal battery that lasts at least 11 days and generates more energy from sunlight, motion, and the heat from breath.

The researchers interviewed health care workers who tried out the FaceBit about its comfort and ease of use, and they tested the accuracy of the device's readings. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies journal series.

The device serves two purposes: to monitor several health metrics and to alert when the mask has become inefficient for some reason due to poor fit, a leak, or deterioration. FaceBit measures heart rate and respiration based on temperature changes from breath. It uses pressure measurements to determine how well the mask fits and how long a person has been wearing it.

The device transmits data to a smartphone app where the user can easily monitor wear time, heart rate, number of breaths, and temperature changes. The app also shows the wear time as a fraction of how long the mask is recommended to be worn so the person knows when to remove or replace the mask.

Together, the data collected by the FaceBit device may be able to help determine a person's physical health, emotional state, and energy level, such as whether they're becoming tired. Eventually, users will be able to customize the app to use push notifications and add other alerts as desired, such as reminders to take breaks and stay hydrated.

According to Engadget, the FaceBit still needs to go through clinical trials before it can be used by the public. Also, the device will likely be most helpful to health care professionals.

Show Sources

Engadget: “Face mask sensor can detect leaks and your heart rate.”

Facebit.health.

Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies: “FaceBit: Smart Face Masks Platform.”

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