The Auracle can do what no fitness tracker does by analyzing what an individual is consuming.
Auracle listens out for what you're eating. Image: The Auracle Project
Wearables make it easy to estimate the number of calories we burn and change our behavior, but there's a dearth of tech for automatically tracking what goes down the hatch.
As a group of mobile health researchers behind the Auracle project point out, what we eat and how much of it we consume is an obviously important question for the "science of obesity", yet there are few tools to monitor eating and drinking habits. Most of the apps available today are just diaries equipped with barcode scanners to collect nutritional information.
The researchers from Dartmouth College and Clemson University have now built a prototype Auracle skin-worn device for monitoring jawbone activity that could help fill the void of ingestion-side health trackers.
The group has had some success in early tests, finding it could rapidly differentiate between three soft and three crunchy food types with 90.9 percent accuracy.
The key sensors are a microphone and two electromyography (EMG) electrodes that are placed behind the ear, close to the jawbone. In its current form the sensors, a micro controller, data storage, and battery are held in place by a headband, but the researchers hope to shrink the contraption to the size of a hearing-aid that can be tucked discreetly behind the ear.
The early results are based on a test in a controlled environment with 20 subjects who were instructed to eat six types of food for two minutes each, and perform eight different activities, such has talking, remaining silent, coughing, laughing, sniffling, deep breathing, and drinking water for various durations.
Unfortunately for anyone hoping for an easier way to track calorie intake, the Auracle isn't the answer despite its success at differentiating food types based on crunchiness.
As Ryan Halter, an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth an Auracle lead, explained to MIT Technology Review, there are plenty of foods like high-fat and low-fat yoghurt that have an identical consistency but vastly different calorie and fat contents.
However, the Auracle device can monitor when and how long we graze, which could help doctors and researchers study dieting or eating disorders. It could also offer a more accurate account of eating habits than a person's food diary.
The group plans to evaluate Auracle in a real-world scenario, which will present challenges due to noise and ensuring the sensors are positioned consistently over time.