Apple patents sensor-packed health monitoring headphones with 'head gesture' control

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2014
In one of the earliest pieces of evidence pointing to Apple's push into the fitness and health monitoring field, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted the company a patent for a biometric headphone system that can sense a variety of metrics including temperature, heart rate and perspiration levels.

Healthbuds
Source: USPTO


Claiming priority over a provisional patent application filed for in 2007, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,655,004 for a "Sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets" proves the company has been investigating integrated activity monitors for at least six years.

According to the patent, the fitness monitoring system is cleverly ensconced in a set of headphones, something users commonly wear to listen to music during workouts. By positioning the headset in or near the ear, the embedded activity sensor can pick up temperature, perspiration and heart rate data, among other metrics.

In addition to skin-based readings, an accelerometer may also be incorporated into the earbud chassis to facilitate the collection of accurate movement data. Some embodiments call for multiple accelerometers, each corresponding to a different axis.

Healthbuds


As described, the activity sensor can be housed in the upper or lower portions of an earbud. As seen in the above illustration, an integrated solution would place the sensing apparatus wholly within the earbud frame. The solution would negate the need for users to wear or carry a separate piece of equipment, such as a smartwatch.

Not detailed in the patent is the means by which heart rate, perspiration and other physical data is harvested. Apple has a number of other properties describing embedded electronic sensors that interact with a user's skin, including an invention covering cardiac signal collection as transferred by an iPhone's external metal structures.

While mere speculation, Apple could potentially embed a conductive metal ring into the earbud, or perhaps position the activity sensor to facilitate touch with a user's bare skin. On the latter implementation, the patent points to a loop-style earbud that fixes the activity sensor in the boom arm rather than the headphone frame. Alternatively, the sensor may be a detachable component that fits into the earbud when needed.

Healthbuds


As the activity monitor also incorporates accelerometers, Apple proposes a novel means of hands-free navigation involving head gestures. For example, users can change music tracks and adjust volume by tilting or rotating their head in predefined manners. To avoid accidental activation, a priming procedure like a button press may be used to initiate the gesture sequence.

In other embodiments, the activity sensor can be mounted within an inline housing on the headset cord. This implementation appears to be limited to motion data gathering, however, as no contact with the user's skin is noted.

Apple points out that the headphone unit may be wired or wireless, with the latter leveraging Bluetooth connectivity to transfer data back to the host device like an iPhone.

While the majority of the patent covers activity sensing, mention is made of a "psychological" sensor. It is possible that Apple could apply specialized algorithms information gathered by the built-in biometric sensor to create a general picture of a user's mental state. The feature could be something akin to Phyode's W/Me wrist-worn wellness device, which measures a user's autonomic nervous system via EKG electrodes.

Healthbuds


With rumors swirling over a so-called "iWatch," Apple has made a number of recent hires from the medical sensor and health industry, leading many to believe the company is working on a standalone monitoring device.

Apple's sports monitoring headphone patent was first filed for in 2008 and credits Christopher Prest and Quin C. Hoellwarth as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    I just wish Apple would invent some headphones that wouldn't keep falling out of my ears.
  • Reply 2 of 28
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    ...In addition to skin-based readings, an accelerometer may also be incorporated into the earbud chassis to facilitate the collection of accurate movement data. Some embodiments call for multiple accelerometers, each corresponding to a different axis.

    MEMs accelerometers are typically tri-axial, so, three axes in a single unit. A tri-axial gyro then gives an unambiguous rotational as opposed to mistaken translational signal, providing at least 6 degrees of freedom.

  • Reply 3 of 28
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    A special pair of health sensor packed headphones for the iPhone makes more sense than a special purpose watch product. I think there might have been medical headphones mentioned at CES this year too.
  • Reply 4 of 28
    kidmillion wrote: »
    I just wish Apple would invent some headphones that wouldn't keep falling out of my ears.

    These don't do that trick for you?

    700
  • Reply 5 of 28
    Good idea from Apple. Increase the number and function of sensors in the things people already use instead of forcing them to adopt additional pieces of hardware.
  • Reply 6 of 28
  • Reply 7 of 28
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,277member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    These don't do that trick for you?




    In-ear headphones is not for everyone. I'm using cheap earpod cushions to prevent them from falling out. Works great, but it bugs me that Apple didn't use a material that would prevent it from falling out of virtually everyone's ears.

  • Reply 8 of 28
    palegolas wrote: »
    In-ear headphones is not for everyone. I'm using cheap earpod cushions to prevent them from falling out. Works great, but it bugs me that Apple didn't use a material that would prevent it from falling out of virtually everyone's ears.

    I agree; those standard earphones fall out, and I hardly ever hear of someone using them. Supposedly the earphones, sound quality wise, aren't any good. Since you're using them, I guess this is way overstated(?)
  • Reply 9 of 28
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,277member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    I agree; those standard earphones fall out, and I hardly ever hear of someone using them. Supposedly the earphones, sound quality wise, aren't any good. Since you're using them, I guess this is way overstated(?)

    I think they sound dramatically better than every other ear pod I've tried. But without the cushion you won't be able to place them right, and the sound will not be directed into your ear the way it should - and you'll loose a lot of bass and volume. But with a cushion you can place them firmly in your ear and they'll sound great. I use them all the time.

    (edit: speaking about the ear pods, yeah?)

  • Reply 10 of 28
    palegolas wrote: »
    I think they sound dramatically better than every other ear pod I've tried. But without the cushion you won't be able to place them right, and the sound will not be directed into your ear the way it should - and you'll loose a lot of bass and volume. But with a cushion you can place them firmly in your ear and they'll sound great. I use them all the time.
    (edit: speaking about the ear pods, yeah?)

    Well, good to hear!

    (Yes, the standard ones that come with the iPod and iPhone, the pods that came with the iPhone 5 are different; untouched in my drawer)
  • Reply 11 of 28
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,277member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    Well, good to hear!



    (Yes, the standard ones that come with the iPod and iPhone, the pods that came with the iPhone 5 are different; untouched in my drawer)

    The original ones prior to iPhone 5 fell out too, but the redesigned ones that came with the 5 fall out even more. But those are the ones that I'm talking about. The original ones prior to iPhone 5 I agree are crap. :-) The newer one needs cushions and then they're remarkably good:

    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD827LL/A/apple-earpods-with-remote-and-mic?fnode=3d

  • Reply 12 of 28
    palegolas wrote: »
    The original ones prior to iPhone 5 fell out too, but the redesigned ones that came with the 5 fall out even more. But those are the ones that I'm talking about. The original ones prior to iPhone 5 I agree are crap. :-) The newer one needs cushions and then they're remarkably good:
    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD827LL/A/apple-earpods-with-remote-and-mic?fnode=3d

    Ah, ok, thanks for the follow-up. Ok, those pods. Haven't tried them myself as I use the in-ear kind daily, and work for me.

    So, the standard, cheap, old ones are crap you think a well. That's what I understood from most people I know, and must be the largest unused CE in history.
  • Reply 13 of 28
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,277member
    Quote:



    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    Ah, ok, thanks for the follow-up. Ok, those pods. Haven't tried them myself as I use the in-ear kind daily, and work for me.



    So, the standard, cheap, old ones are crap you think a well. That's what I understood from most people I know, and must be the largest unused CE in history.

    Yeah sorry about not being clear. Well in reality I think those old crap ones ended up probably being the most used head phones in history. They were shipped with every unit, and probably used by the majority of the people who don't care that much about audio quality. You know, there are a lot of people that are happy to listen to a song through the phone speakers.. :rolleyes:

  • Reply 14 of 28
    palegolas wrote: »
    Yeah sorry about not being clear.

    Or my slow understanding and me not properly reading your post.
    Well in reality I think those old crap ones ended up probably being the most used head phones in history. They were shipped with every unit, and probably used by the majority of the people who don't care that much about audio quality. You know, there are a lot of people that are happy to listen to a song through the phone speakers.. :rolleyes:

    Still, one would expect those to fall out of their ears as well. Maybe my ears have grown too large for them but youth-y ears are small enough.
  • Reply 15 of 28
    [VIDEO]



    Head gesture control? How about kinetic motion headphones?
  • Reply 16 of 28
    As I said in another thread, I can't get excited because Apple patents many things they never do. And Apple is big enough they could likely keep the ones they are about to use out of public record until they announce it. Or at least closer to the announcement. Or if they can't then use a fake name etc. File them under something like "mobile medical device research inc" or something
  • Reply 17 of 28
    charlituna wrote: »
    As I said in another thread, I can't get excited because Apple patents many things they never do. And Apple is big enough they could likely keep the ones they are about to use out of public record until they announce it. Or at least closer to the announcement. Or if they can't then use a fake name etc. File them under something like "mobile medical device research inc" or something

    I hear ya, but I do think headphones are a great place for adding sensors so this is one patent that I think has a high likelihood of being utilized. If Apple's iWatch has a wireless charging I'd hope they also have headphones that are wireless. The batteries in each should be small enough to make wireless charging feasible.
  • Reply 18 of 28
    Originally Posted by kidmillion View Post

    I just wish Apple would invent some headphones that wouldn't keep falling out of my ears.

     

    You’re hearing it wrong. ;)

     

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post

    Well, good to hear!

     

    OW. That HURT.

     

    Do more. I’m all ears.

  • Reply 19 of 28
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,683member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by palegolas View Post

     

    The original ones prior to iPhone 5 fell out too, but the redesigned ones that came with the 5 fall out even more. But those are the ones that I'm talking about. The original ones prior to iPhone 5 I agree are crap. :-) The newer one needs cushions and then they're remarkably good:

    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD827LL/A/apple-earpods-with-remote-and-mic?fnode=3d


    These iPhone 5 ear pods sound fine for me, but they hurt my ears after a fairly short amount of time.  Not from loudness, but from the hard plastic.  It would be unfortunate if Apple used this design for it's sensor pods.  I did a little searching and apparently many people find them painful.

  • Reply 20 of 28
    dunksdunks Posts: 1,240member
    I love my earpods but I'd love them even more if Apple cut the cords.
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