Source: Raymond Smith/University of Washington

Thermal Earring offers new approach to temperature monitoring

Is your earring the next health tracker? The Thermal Earring hints at a future of smart jewelry monitoring everything from fevers to stress levels…and maybe even ovulation.

Wearable technology steadily advances, seeking better ways to integrate health monitoring into our lives. While fitness trackers and smartwatches dominate, research into less traditional form factors, like smart earrings, holds intriguing promise. The recently developed Thermal Earring exemplifies this with its focus on continuous temperature monitoring.

Body temperature, beyond measuring fevers, reveals more about our bodily states. It subtly reacts to exercise, food consumption, stress, and more. Achieving reliable, continuous temperature tracking has posed a challenge. The Thermal Earring’s key advantage lies in its placement on the earlobe, providing closer proximity to core body temperature than wrist-worn devices.

Notably, researchers at the Washington University designed the Thermal Earring to be both functional and stylish. By shrinking the technology into a familiar earring form, they demonstrate that advanced health tracking needn’t be bulky or unfashionable.

The Thermal Earring prototype prioritizes both precision and power efficiency. Alongside its dual-sensor design for isolating internal body temperature, it houses a Bluetooth chip, a battery, and an antenna within its discreet form factor. Rather than traditional high-power Bluetooth connections, it utilizes Bluetooth advertising mode for availability signaling. This, followed by deep sleep modes after data transmission, significantly reduces power draw, achieving an impressive 28-day real-world battery life. The prototype measures a maximum of 11.3 mm in width, 31 mm in length, and weighs a mere 335 mg.

Thermal Earring
Source: Raymond Smith/University of Washington

Preliminary studies offer insight into the Thermal Earring’s potential

To assess the Thermal Earring’s capabilities, researchers first established its stability within ±0.32 °C during periods of rest. Initial fever detection testing involved 5 febrile patients and a control group of 20 healthy participants. Additionally, multi-day studies explored how earlobe temperature correlates to a broader range of daily activities, including meals, exercise, and stress-inducing activities like public speaking and exams. These varied tests were performed in the natural course of participants’ daily lives to ensure real-world validity.

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As the results show, the earring effectively detected fevers in test subjects, pointing towards possible early illness detection applications. Researchers additionally discovered measurable temperature fluctuations related to eating, exercise, and surprisingly, stress responses. This hints at potential tools for automatic fitness tracking and hands-free stress monitoring.

The future of wearables is beyond the wrist

The Thermal Earring’s focus on temperature monitoring opens up diverse potential applications. Researchers suggest future capabilities like tracking ovulation for fertility awareness. However, continuous monitoring poses practical challenges such as maintaining consistent earlobe contact and maximizing battery life, factors undoubtedly influencing the refinement of these emerging technologies.

While not entirely groundbreaking, the Thermal Earring is an example of the gradual shift we are seeing in how we approach wearables. Instead of dedicated wrist-based trackers, researchers explore incorporating sensors into everyday accessories. Smart rings have gained popularity in recent years. No doubt, other form factors will emerge in the coming years. This prototype provides a proof-of-concept for integrating health monitoring into jewelry like rings, necklaces, and more, seamlessly collecting vital data without compromising our fashion choices.

Source: Xue, Qiuyue Shirley and Liu, Yujia and Breda, Joseph and Springston, Mastafa and Iyer, Vikram and Patel, Shwetak. Thermal Earring: Low-power Wireless Earring for Longitudinal Earlobe Temperature Sensing. Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. DOI: 10.1145/3631440

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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