Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Connectivity

Wearable Self-Tracking Tool Listens for Yawns, Coughs, and Munches

A new wearable sensor listens for sounds that betray your activity and mood.

The ability to sense mood and health problems automatically could lead to better health care and smarter products.

Speech recognition has gotten sophisticated, but spoken words aren’t the only revealing noises people make. We also cough, laugh, grunt, grind teeth, breathe hard, and make other sounds that can provide clues to mood and health.

Good listener: This prototype piezoelectric detector attaches to a person’s head, behind the ear, and picks up body noises like chewing and laughing.

Now researchers at Cornell have built a system designed to detect body noises other than speech. The system consists of a microphone that attaches behind the user’s ear, and someday could be built into the frame of a device like Google Glass. By picking up sound waves transmitted through the skull, it can detect subtle clues about the activity or emotional state of the person wearing it—when he or she is eating, for example, or has a cold—and could make devices that track fitness or health much more accurate.

“We see ‘quantified self’ and health tracking taking off, but one unsolved problem is how to track food consumption in an automated way,” says Tanzeem Choudhury, who led the research. “This can reliably detect the onset of eating and how frequently are you eating.”

If used in enough smartphones, Choudhury’s technology might measure the health of a city. “This could be a bridge between tracking pollution and coughing and other respiratory sounds to get a better measure of how pollution is affecting the population,” she says.

Such technology also could be combined with other methods of ambient sensing in smartphones. Motorola’s latest handset, the Moto X, includes a chip that constantly listens for certain keywords (see “The Era of Ubiquitous Listening Dawns”) to determine what the phone’s owner is doing.

Rana el Kaliouby, cofounder of Affectiva, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based company that makes software that can read people’s faces to detect their emotions, says the Cornell technology could help with both mood-sensing and health. “I like their focus on nonspeech body sounds. We know from our work that these are very important and telling,” she says. 

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.