Last week, a team of computer science and engineering researchers from Dartmouth and Clemson University received its first prototype of the Amulet, an electronic bracelet designed to enable efficient health management outside clinical settings and spearhead mobile health technology.
The Amulet project, funded by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Computer Systems Research program, aims to develop an effective software framework for future wearable mobile health management devices. Known as “computational jewelry,” these bracelet or necklace-like devices will be able to discreetly monitor the body-area network when worn, track health information of the wearer and securely communicate this data to other health devices, health centers or health care professionals.
In addition to being smaller and easier to carry than smartphones, which can run health-related applications, the Amulet will be less susceptible to malware than smartphones because it does not run unrelated applications, said Ryan Halter, Thayer School of Engineering professor and co-principal investigator. The project may help coordinate research and medical care to potentially improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs in the long run.
The Amulet will mostly help patients with chronic conditions or those trying to modify certain behaviors. Possible future applications for the device include monitoring blood sugar levels in diabetes patients or managing hypertension in patients with high blood pressure. The researchers are creating two apps to specifically help test the Amulet: one that manages stress and another that tracks smoking behavior.
“You might have a nicotine sensor, and accelerometers which are attached to detect whether a person’s hand is moving in the way that a smoker’s hand does when they are smoking,” Halter said. “It can tell if they’re actually smoking or if they’re just sitting next to someone who is smoking. Then, the Amulet might be able to intervene in some way.”
Unlike pedometers or activity trackers like the FitBit or the Nike+ FuelBand, the Amulet will interact wirelessly with other worn health devices, such as heart rate monitors on the chest or insulin monitors worn on the upper arm, and health devices that are not attached to the body like bathroom scales, computer science professor and principal investigator David Kotz said. In addition, the Amulet can be programmed to fulfill multiple tasks, unlike health devices currently on the market.
“The idea is for the Amulet is to be a hub for a variety of mobile health applications, collecting and analyzing information from various sensors, doing some simple analysis, alerting and getting input from you,” Kotz said. “We are still envisioning the kinds of applications that might be possible.”
The current Amulet prototype is seven inches by three inches and is not meant to be wearable. The team is investigating various ways to ensure that each Amulet can only be used by one person, so health data collected is specific to one individual and remains private.
“If it’s worn on the wrist, one way is using bioimpedance,” Halter said. “Lots of people have slightly different anatomies in the wrist. If you measure the bioimpedance, or the path of electrical properties in the tissue in a bunch of different configurations around the wrist, you can determine who is wearing it in a group of people with pretty good accuracy.”
Another option to ensure privacy is using heart rates as a biometric to identify the wearer.
Last winter, Halter and engineering professor Peter Robbie led a product design class in which students designed prototypes of Amulet-like products to help manage chronic conditions and behaviors.
This winter, Kotz and Halter will collaborate with students again to envision potential wristband designs for the Amulet. The pair has discussed introducing a new class about global health technologies, which they would teach during the third year of the National Science Foundation grant, Halter said.
For the next six months, the team will work on making the Amulet smaller, determining its computational energy needs and deciding on an optimal user interface, such as a screen or a microphone that speaks to the wearer. The team hopes to publish a paper about the device in December.
“We’re basically trying to establish the description of the basic software framework for publication,” Clemson University computer science professor and principal investigator Jacob Sorber said.
Kotz and Sorber first came up with the idea for the Amulet while Sorber was completing postdoctoral research at Dartmouth and helped to co-publish a paper describing the concept in 2012. Original funding was provided by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects on Security program. The new funding from the National Science Foundation took effect on Oct. 1. There are currently no plans to commercialize the Amulet.