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The smart accessory you didn’t know you needed: an earring that tracks your health

Feb 13, 2024, 9:20 AM | Updated: 12:47 pm

Smart tech earrings...

University of Washington researchers introduced the Thermal Earring, a wireless wearable that continuously monitors a user’s earlobe temperature. (Raymond Smith/University of Washington)

(Raymond Smith/University of Washington)

University of Washington (UW) researchers have brought earrings into the smart tech realm.

The Thermal Earring, a wireless wearable device, continuously monitors a user’s earlobe temperature.

“We found that sensing the skin temperature on the lobe, instead of a hand or wrist, was much more accurate,” Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue, a UW doctoral student, said in a story published in UW News. “It also gave us the option to have part of the sensor dangle to separate ambient room temperature from skin temperature.”

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The earring was more accurate than a smartwatch at sensing skin temperatures during periods of rest.

“I wear a smartwatch to track my personal health, but I’ve found that a lot of people think smartwatches are unfashionable or bulky and uncomfortable,” Xue explained.

The earring also showed promise for monitoring signs of stress, eating, exercise and ovulation.

“In medicine, we often monitor fevers to assess response to therapy — to see, for instance, if an antibiotic is working on an infection,” Dr. Mastafa Springston, a UW clinical instructor, said on the site. “Longer term monitoring is a way to increase sensitivity of capturing fevers since they can rise and fall throughout the day.”

The smart earring prototype is about the size and weight of a small paperclip and has a 28-day battery life. The earrings can be personalized with fashion designs made of resin. It is also not yet available commercially.

The engineering challenge is to design a wearable small enough to pass as an earring, yet robust enough that users would have to charge it only every few days.

“It’s a tricky balance,” said Yujia (Nancy) Liu, who was a UW masters student when the research was done. “Typically, if you want power to last longer, you should have a bigger battery. But then you sacrifice size. Making it wireless also demands more energy.”

The research team made the earring’s power consumption as efficient as possible while also making space for a Bluetooth chip, a battery, two temperature sensors and an antenna.

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“Current wearables like Apple Watch and Fitbit have temperature sensors, but they provide only an average temperature for the day, and their temperature readings from wrists and hands are too noisy to track ovulation,” Xue said. “So we wanted to explore unique applications for the earring, especially applications that might be attractive to women and anyone who cares about fashion.”

While researchers found several promising potential applications for the Thermal Earring, their findings were preliminary.

“Eventually, I want to develop a jewelry set for health monitoring,” Xue said. “The earrings would sense activity and health metrics such as temperature and heart rate, while a necklace might serve as an electrocardiogram monitor for more effective heart health data.”

Bill Kaczaraba is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here. Follow Bill on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here.

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