Beyond FitBit: Welcome in the “Wireless Body-Area-Network”

Photo credit: Ron Aira

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing researcher Vivian Motti, assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology at George Mason University’s Volgenau School of Engineering. Ms. Motti has joined up with colleagues at Dartmouth and Clemson to develop the “Amulet bracelet,” a wearable mobile health device that is more high-tech than the popular ones today. She says the bracelet acts as a “hub,” interacting with other mobile sensors and aggregating a person’s health information for multiple potential uses, including analysis by health professionals. The research emphasis is on optimizing methods for collecting and using data to reduce battery drain, to enhance synchronizing functions, and to make it easier for wearers to understand and use the information their bodies provide—all while enhancing controls on privacy and data sharing.

Below is a summary of our interview:

Q. Can you tell me more about how the “Amulet bracelet” works and how it began?
R. Our research project began with the purpose of helping people with smoking cessation and behavior change. However, we faced challenges with the nicotine sensors and detection of behavior patterns, so we switched our emphasis to stress management, an area in which we currently have pilot studies going on, including with obese and overweight individuals.

Q. How could your bracelet help people struggling with weight?
R. This technology can collect data essential to any number of medical conditions with a behavioral component, including overeating, stress, and many chronic diseases. The collected data can help individuals and medical professionals better understand a person’s emotional states and correlate that with related data, including environmental triggers.

Q. How did you get into the field of “wearables?”
R. I always had a multidisciplinary academic interest. My background is in biomedical informatics, and bringing technological solutions closer to users to meet their specific needs is my main research goal. I was fortunate to take an elective course on human-computer interaction in my last year of undergraduate studies, which ignited my interest in considering human factors when developing technological solutions. From there, I earned my masters degree in computer science and did my post-doc in wearable health technology.

Q. Why do you think this type of technology is so popular today?
R. I think there will always be people who just want the latest technology. Others seek greater awareness about their health or a specific medical condition. Our aim is to help patients understand what is going on and be more proactive in their own health care, which in turn supports more successful interventions. I think of wearables as a means of preventing disease and of helping people modify their behaviors to hopefully achieve a healthier lifestyle. For healthcare practitioners, this and similar technologies can give them more aggregated data to personalize treatments and better tailor services to their patients.

Coda from Jen: I believe this kind of wireless “body-area network” can empower users with the information they need to potentially improve their behaviors, also giving doctors more data to better tailor interventions and personalize medical treatments. Moreover, in this time when people with chronic conditions drive 84% of national health care dollars and 99% of Medicare spending, we need to embrace technology that will improve health care quality, safety, and efficiency. And since obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, etc., helping overweight and obese individuals change risky behaviors and improve metabolic health and fitness is a worthy goal that can greatly improve their quality of life and benefit society as a whole.

–Keep moving, Jen

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