Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 25, 2012

Heart Rate Headphones for Exercisers -- Be Still My Heart?



Anyone who has walked into a fitness center, gone skiing, likes to run or engages in other forms of vigorous exercise knows music and exercise are inexorably intertwined. It almost seems you can’t have one without the other, all of which makes headset manufacturers delirious. Indeed, as Julie Andrews sang in the Hollywood classic movie, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”  

And, there is no denying that music can motivate athletes to speed up or slow down their exercise regimens.  Athletes have carefully selected playlists for when they are working out, and a new app promises to help them find just the right tunes to enable them get the most out of their sessions.

The app is called MusicalHeart. It is a music-recommendation engine that uses a user’s heart rate to recommend songs.  

What it is all about

Created by a team of researchers at the University of Virginia, the app is quite ingenious. Your smartphone is connconnected to headphones that listen to your heart rate through the throb of arteries in your ear.  With heart rate knowledge known, the app selects a song that matches the wearer’s pre-defined desired intensity level. If the wearer is currently performing under their target heart rate, MusicalHeart selects a song to raise it, and if they are over their target heart rate, the app will play a song to lower it. 

It gets even better. You can sets your personal goals (such as a target heart rate zone) and the device will recommend and play appropriate music– considering your current heart rate, target heart rate, past responses to music and activity level.

The schematic in the whitepaper the researchers have prepared shows what is involved.

Source: MusicalHeart: A Hearty Way of Listening to Music (University of Virginia)

Putting aside all of the interesting engineering that has gone into this, a simple way to understand it is that it performs the same function as a wearable heart rate monitor. The difference is you will not need an  additional piece of equipment.  The solution here is to embed a microphone, inertial measurement unit (IMU), and LED into the headphones and  integrate the necessary equipment into a device already worn by those who exercise. Think of this as just an great upgrade to your headset collection. 

Want to learn more? The folds from The University of Virginia will be singing the praises of their innovation in November at the SenSys conference in Toronto. Sorry Apple lovers, but I hope the Android version is commercialized soon and first. I am getting my play list ready now.







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